| Safe Streets & Road Repair Bond Faces Uphill Battle
By Jonathan Farrell Jul 14, 2009
As the effects of the economic recession make a larger impact, one necessity often taken for granted and overlooked is streets and roads.
The City and County of San Francisco is proposing a $368 million dollar Safe Streets & Road Repair Bond initiative for the November 2009 ballot. If passed by the voters, the bond will repair, improve and enhance San Francisco’s streets, sidewalks, bridges, stairways, streetscapes and curb ramps.
“This bond initiative needs a two-thirds majority to pass,” said communications rep Gloria Chan speaking on behalf of SF Dept. of Public Works.
Yet in an opinion piece on July 6, SF Examiner columnist Ken Garcia critiqued that with a city budget of over $6 billion there should be enough money for basic repairs. Garcia wrote, “Why can’t we find money to fix our own streets? Something is wrong here – very, very wrong.”
Apparently, SF Supervisor Sean Elsbernd would agree. As Garcia referred to Elsbernd as, “a champion of reasonable financial discourse.”
The Mission Dispatch contacted Elsbernd for more detail. Elsbernd's Legislative aid Alex Volberding noted that the supervisor does not question the need for street repair, he simply considers the use of a bond measure “not smart financing.”
“Typically bond measures like this are used for major capital projects like the rebuilding of hospitals such as in the case of SF General for example,” said Volberding.
The Board of Supervisors reviewed the bond ordinance on July 9 at the Budget & Finance Committee.
In the week prior to the July 9 review, the Public Interest and Necessity Resolution was approved by the Supervisors, 9-2. (SF Supervisors Michela Allioto-Pier and Elsbernd dissenting).
$368 million total for the bond measure breakdown is as follows:
· $209 million is to resurface and pave streets
· $24.9 million is to rehabilitate street structures such as bridges, tunnels, stairways, guardrails, etc
· $30.6 million is to design and construct curb ramps on the street corners so the city can continue to comply with the American with Disabilities Transition Plan and provide accessibility for every resident
· $10.1 million is to repair and improve damaged city maintained sidewalks (sidewalks around buckling street trees, etc.)
· $93 million is to redesign and improve the public realm (includes constructing bulb-outs, widening of sidewalks, crosswalk treatments, and other safety features to accommodate pedestrians, cars, bikers, and transit riders.
Chan understands the supervisor’s concern, but noted that people often do not realize how important infrastructure of roads and streets are not only to the City but to the State and the entire nation.
She also pointed out that Streets and roads in San Francisco are “critically underfunded and traditionally have had no secure on-going source of revenue for upkeep and repair.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission oversees the quality of roads, streets and infrastructure throughout the nation. It rates San Francisco at barely satisfactory. It maintains regulations and standards for road materials, safety and traffic conditions.
“MTC’s goal is to have the average Pavement Condition Index or (PCI) scores for local streets and roads in all the region's cities and counties reach 70 or higher,” said John Goodwin, information officer for the MTC regional office in Oakland.
“A score of 70 (on a scale of zero to 100) is the lowest possible score to be considered ‘good’” he said.
“San Francisco currently ranks in the ‘fair’ category with an average PCI score of 64,” Goodwin added.
Considering the increased amount of constant traffic over the years, “streets and roads no matter how well built have a limited life span of about 40 years,” said Chan. She told the Mission Dispatch that DPW did respond to Garcia’s opinion piece, sending a letter to the editor. “Streets and other assets under the bond measure have a 20 plus year life span; not 5-10 years as Ken writes,” she said.
Goodwin agreed as he said in a press statement this past January, with its ‘fair’ grade rating, “the typical stretch of asphalt in the Bay Area is showing serious wear and will require rehabilitation soon.”
San Francisco faces a myriad of challenges and uncertainty when it comes to receiving funds to repave its streets. Beginning in FY 2010-11, the City is projecting a decline in anticipated funding from federal, state and local sources. Without a general obligation bond, there will be average annual shortfall of $25 million over the next five years, which would adversely impact pavement conditions.
Chan explained how bond initiatives work. As old bonds retire, the city is able to issue a new bond so that property rates remain at the same level as 2006. Hence, this is why the City is able to propose this specific bond measure without increasing tax rates beyond the 2006 level.
If other bonds aside from the Safe Streets and Road Repair Bonds are put on the books in the future, it may increase rates. However, for this particular bond, the amount will maintain tax rates and the 2006 level.
Responding to the comment made my Volberding regarding the use of a bond measure for maintenance, Chan said, “Streets are considered capital assets. They last longer than the 20-year financing of this bond,” she pointed out.
Chan also explained to the Mission Dispatch the various sources of funding that may be available but again are not secure. They are as follows:
With regards to Federal funding for streets and roads…
The current transportation appropriations bill, SAFETEA, expires on Sept. 30, 2009. The bill provided $286.4 billion nationwide for highway, transit and highway safety investments from 2004-2009. Over the period of SAFETEA, San Francisco received approximately $13.5 million for street resurfacing projects. The City anticipates receiving approximately $2 million annually in federal funds over the next 10 years. In FY 2008-09, San Francisco anticipates approximately $11.35 million in one-time funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds will be used to plug shortfalls in FY 2008-09 and 2009-10.
With regards to State funding for streets and roads…
Approved by California voters in 2002, Proposition 42 dedicates revenues from the state sales tax on fuel. For five years, San Francisco received almost no funding from Proposition 42 because the State borrowed against these funds to close General Fund deficits. Proposition 1A, approved by voters in 2006, provided additional protections to Proposition 42 and also limited the State’s ability to divert these funds toward other purposes. FY 2008-09 was the first year Proposition 42 was fully funded and the City estimates future annual receipts of approximately $12 million. However, the source is still subject to periodic suspension by the Governor and Legislature and contingent upon consumption trends and fluctuating gas prices.
Proposition 1B, the Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006, was passed by the voters of California in November of 2006. The act authorized the sale of $20 billion in bond debt to finance transportation projects within the State. Specifically, the bond money is available for expenditure by various state agencies and for grants to local agencies and transit operators upon appropriation by the Legislature. In total, the bond allocates $2 billion that will repair and rehabilitate local streets and roads, reduce local traffic congestion, improve traffic flow, or increase traffic safety. Initially, Proposition 1B funds were to be allocated over a period of 10 years. Instead, the State accelerated the distribution of funds, allocating more than $1 billion over two years. Of the $40 million anticipated to come to San Francisco, $33 million was appropriated in FY 2007-08 and FY 2008-09 with approximately $6.5 million remaining.
And at the Local level for streets and roads…
The Proposition K Expenditure Plan includes $135 million for street resurfacing over a 30-year period or $4.5 million annually. However, in the transition from Proposition B — which allocated an average of $15 million annually—to Proposition K, the Transportation Authority adopted a spending plan that accelerated allocations of Prop K from FY 2005-06 through FY 2007-08. In FY 2008-09 the funding dropped to approximately $3 million annually and is expected to phase out by 2024, ten years before the end of the sales tax.
Chan mentioned that the money in the bond measure would be completely dedicated and strictly appropriated with only 1 million of the funds designated as discretionary.
“Many other cities finance paving roads through the same effort we are proposing including New York, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, etc.,” said Chan.
“Every program includes criteria for how we will go about selecting projects under this bond. There are also strong accountability measures in place built into bond including the creation of an oversight committee, audits, reports and reviews, and public hearings so that funds in this bond are used according to the will of the voters,” Chan said.
Elsbernd’s office noted that this initiative has two parts before the Board of Supervisors. The first part is the resolution or an outline of the proposal and then the second part has to do with the budget and a review of the financial elements.
Once the two parts are completed then the full bond measure is reviewed again in its entirety. And, after a final approval by the Board of Supervisors, then it will go before the Mayor for him to review and sign for approval.
“This will take some time about a month,” said Volberding.
For more information about the 2009 Safe Streets & Road Repair Bond initiative visit DPW web site at www.sfgov.org/site/sfdpw Or call 415-554-6926.
E-mail Jonathan Farrell at Jonathanfar@al.com.
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