Commentary

Same old story in CA

It would probably be more surprising if transportation money were actually used for transportation purposes. But, once again, in the language of politicians “transportation fund” means “slush fund”: The raiding of more than $2 billion from transportation funds to shore up the state’s budget in recent years has put in jeopardy 800 gridlock-relieving projects awaiting funding across the state, officials say. State transportation officials insist 145 highway and transit projects targeted in the governor’s transportation program will remain on track because the transportation account has enough cash flow to keep them moving forward. But funds are scarce for the 800 lined up behind them. “That’s why they call it the highway trust fund. The taxpayers trusted the government that their highway money would be used for their highways,” said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, a candidate running in the Oct. 7 election to recall Gov. Gray Davis. “Except it’s been siphoned off for every other (purpose) except our highways.” Bob Poole suggests a better way in the form of HOT lanesââ?¬â??limited access, and largely self-supporting toll lanes that use variable pricing to guarantee that commuters will always have full-speed alternative to the regular lanes: The cost of building a network of new lanes and interchanges (so a bus or toll user could switch from the 405 to the 101 without merging into regular traffic), and modifying current lanes, would total $10.8 billion – which seems extreme, particularly amid the budget deficit. However, since the projected toll revenues are so substantial ($922 million each year), tax-exempt toll revenue bonds, at no taxpayer expense, would be able to cover 86 percent of the costs necessary to create a seamless network of high-occupancy toll lanes. The rest of the funding, just 14 percent, would come from traditional federal and state transportation programs.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.