Among the many things I’ve neglected while obsessing over a long-term project has been the work of Alameda County’s guardians of the half-cent sales tax for transportation.
In 1986, a majority of voters approved Measure B, which started the tax that year and created the Alameda County Transportation Authority to spend it. That taxing authority ended in 2002, but in 2000, voters passed another Measure B to continue from there under the auspices of the same agency with a different name, the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority. I’m guessing the snazzy new name was what won the second measure 81.5 percent of the vote.
So the modest staff of ACTA/ACTIA, some of whom are Capricious Commuter readers, treated several of the area’s transportation reporters to lunch (For the record, I DID NOT have a cheese sandwich.) and gave us the aforementioned history as well as a rundown of their past, present and future projects.
I feel for these people. They’re doing important work, for sure, but so much of it is in the small-change realm that it’s difficult to justify writing about. By small change, I mean under 10s of millions of dollars. These days, in the wake of voter approval of Proposition 1B, any transportation project under $100 million in the Bay Area is under the radar unless it has some quirky attribute that’s fun to write about.
But true to their mandate, the folks at ACTA/ACTIA work hard at getting the word out to voters/taxpayers that their will is being done. Today they succeeded in dragging me and even Mr. Roadshow from the San Jose Mercury News (lately acquired by MediaNews) out to hear their spiel.
So what do they do besides ply the media with pasta salad and pickles? They’ve helped pay for the San Leandro Fairway/Aladdin overcrossing, just about every improvement to Interstate 880 that’s been built, BART to Dublin/Pleasanton, the I-580/I-680 interchange and the Oakland Airport Roadway, to name many that are completed under the 1986 sales tax measure. They’re also helping fund the Altamont Commuter Express commuter train that goes from Stockton to San Jose via the Livermore Valley.
Even though the first measure’s tax spigot stopped running in 2002, there was still enough money for the ongoing construction of the I-880-Mission Boulevard Connector, which is now 60 percent complete, and other projects.
The agency’s current, 2002-to-2022 plan would do everything from expanding mass transit (including helping fund the BART to Warm Springs Extension, a sizeable baby step toward San Jose) and unclogging freeways all the way to filling potholes, adding bike lanes and putting up wheelchair ramps down the front of home-bound senior citizens.
They do a lot, this agency, and like other such agencies they have problems and controversies, like the now abandoned Hayward Bypass project and a no-bid contract for the same attorney since the agency was created (which the agency says it’s about to correct).
It seems, more than anything, that the people who run this outfit want more than anything for Alameda County residents to know first, that they exist, second, that their sales tax dollars are spent the way voters agreed they should be spent, and third, that they will listen to anyone who has an idea about how that money could improve mobility in the county.
That last part is key, because they’ve recently invited people to recommend projects to improve bicycle and handicapped access, purposes for which they have $7 million at the moment.
Transportation doesn’t grow on trees, but in self-help counties like Alameda, it grows every time you pay sales tax.
Photo from www.acgov.org.