Lodi official: Road projects would benefit from state gas tax

April 19, 2017

By Kyla Cathey/Lodi Living Editor

The state Legislature recently voted to hike gas taxes and vehicle fees by just over $5 billion per year in California.

Proceeds from the tax will go to repairing California’s highways and bridges, as well as boosting transportation projects throughout the state.

That goes for Lodi, too.

“Initially it will mean around $360,000 extra — that’s the projection — for fiscal 2017-18. For 2018-19, we’re looking at close to a million,” Lodi Public Works Director Charlie Swimley said.

The money can only be used for road maintenance, but Lodi has plenty of ongoing projects that would benefit from an injection of funds.

For example, as the city upgrades roads, it has been adding a rubber cape seal to the asphalt. This extends a roadway’s life by about half as much as a new overlay, Swimley said, meaning that the city can go longer before needing to replace or repair roads.

“It’s going to be very helpful for the City of Lodi in terms of maintaining our street infrastructure,” he said.

The plan was forcefully pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a necessary response to 23 years without a gas tax increase, which has resulted in a backlog of $130 billion in repair and replacement projects throughout the state.

But the vote in his favor came with a price tag. Brown and legislative dealers promised nearly $1 billion for the pet projects of lawmakers who had been sitting on the fence before they were persuaded to vote for the bill.

The bill, approved by two-thirds votes of the Senate and Assembly, raises the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, boosts diesel taxes and creates a new annual fee when cars and trucks are registered.

Among the promises Brown made in exchange for support for the gas tax was a commitment to earmark $400 million for the Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail line between the Central Valley and the Bay Area.

State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, called the promise a “big win” for San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.

“This project will help relieve congestion on Highway 99 and the Altamont Pass and will provide a fast and comfortable alternative for both commuter and leisure travelers from our communities to the East Bay and San Jose,” she said in a press release.

Galgiani, who represents Lodi, worked with State Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres, and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, to secure Brown’s promise for the funding.

“The state has continuously underinvested in the San Joaquin Valley and in rural California,” Cenalla said. “ACE service to Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Merced will bring great economic benefit to our region — providing a safe, reliable, affordable and comfortable alternative to driving to the Bay Area.”

ACE runs four daily round trips from Stockton through the Tri-Valley into San Jose. More than a million riders use the service each year.

The funds will allow ACE to expand its service as well as replace aging tracks, stations and trains. The service plants to expand to Ceres by 2023, if not sooner.

“We are excited to expand service into Stanislaus County and ease congestion on Highway 99,” said Stacey Mortensen, executive director of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission.

Funding was also promised for a parkway project at the University of California, Merced, to connect the campus to Highway 99.

Another $427 million was set aside for projects in Riverside County, including a connection between Highway 91 and Interstate 15, and a bridge project.

Supporters of the earmarks emphasized that the funding was for desperately needed projects and the gas tax money would still be going to improve state infrastructure.

“The constitutional protections in the bill guarantee that the money can only be spent on transportation improvements in every part of the state,” Galgiani said. “San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties will receive extra funding as self-help counties which have passed their own transportation tax measures.”

Brown was also pleased with the deals.

“You could get a train going to the Central Valley? Does anyone want trains more than me? No,” Brown said. “You could get projects and parks in some of the poorest neighborhoods in California? Hallelujah!”

Los Angeles Times writers Patrick McGreevy, Melanie Mason and John Myers contributed to this report.