As I-205 shows, road projects are paved with cash
MEASURE K: PART ONE
AS I-205 SHOWS, ROAD PROJECTS ARE PAVED WITH CASH
STOCKTON - In 2009, when work crews wrapped up a $93 million project to expand the oft-congested Interstate 205 from four lanes to six, it was reason to celebrate for the frustrated commuters, local businesses and public officials who had been clamoring for years that this vital connection to the Bay Area be widened.
Public pressure is one thing, but what finally pushed the project toward completion was cold, hard cash.
San Joaquin County transportation officials lent the state $66 million in 2005 to get the project rolling. They were able to make the loan because of money from the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 with the passage of Measure K.
That program was set to expire in March 2011, but voters in 2006 chose to extend the tax into 2041.
The money made it possible for the I-205 project to start when it did, said Stockton's Ort Lofthus, transportation advocate and leader of the grass-roots push to widen I-205.
Throughout its 20-year history, the sales tax has helped fund other vital transportation projects important to the county.
"Measure K is the one thing that lit it all on fire," Lofthus said.
The tax's legacy and future is the ability pay for transportation priorities, both with the millions of dollars collected through Measure K and the millions more in state and federal dollars that follow the local investment, officials said. The projects have included both regional priorities - like the major freeways connecting cities in the county to each other and the rest of the state - to smaller projects within individual communities.
"I think it has been the absolutely best thing that has happened in San Joaquin County in the past 25 years," said Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston, who is also a member of the San Joaquin Council of Governments, the regional transportation authority that manages the fund.
Of California's 58 counties, only about a third have such tax measures for transportation.
Putting up local matching funds helps bring back taxpayer dollars sent out of the county to Sacramento and Washington D.C., said Chuck Winn, Ripon City Council member and chairman of the Council of Governments. He points to recent figures that show that the county has brought in more state dollars for projects in one year than the other seven counties in the transportation region combined.
Anybody driving a car south on Highway 99 out of the county can tell the difference by looking at the condition of the roadway after crossing into Stanislaus County, he said. The end result is a county more attractive to both current and future residents and businesses looking for a place to locate, he said.
"The better you can make your infrastructure - not just roads, but transit ... that makes the quality of life better," he said.
The original Measure K helped establish the Altamont Commuter Express passenger rail service. It also allocated money towards its operation and the operation of San Joaquin Regional Transit District bus service. Major road projects include:
» Building new interchanges on Highway 99, including the point where 99 meets Highway 120 in Manteca.
» Widening Highway 99 between the Crosstown Freeway and Hammer Lane in Stockton.
At one time, the transportation authority projected the sales tax would bring in $735 million over its original, 20-year lifetime.
But as the original Measure K began to wrap up, the country's economy started to crash. And the county - like the rest of the nation - had fewer funds from sales-tax revenue, and transportation officials scaled back projections to about $642 million, which worked out to about $667 million with investment earnings.
It had a minimal impact on the first round of Measure K projects, but recovery limped along as the renewed Measure K program began ramping up.
Projections that the next 30 years of Measure K would bring in nearly $5 billion had to be significantly revised.
Lowered expectations, notwithstanding, the money from the renewed sales tax is being used as a down payment on future transportation improvements. Along with funding through the California Department of Transportation, Measure K is building infrastructure for the next generation of county residents.
And the projects that broke ground in 2011 - such as the $122 million project to widen Interstate 5 in much of Stockton and help create the first carpool lane in San Joaquin County - are just the beginning.
Contact reporter Zachary K. Johnson ator email@example.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/johnsonblog.
Measure K 2.0
Measure K, passed by voters in 1990 to add a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, expired in 2011. But voters chose to extend the program for another 30 years. Today, The Record looks at the legacy of Measure K's first 20 years. On Thursday, the two-part series will conclude with the outlook for the program's next phase: transportation projects underway and those yet to come.