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New sales tax proposal for transportation work gets Contra Costa supervisors’ blessing

County supervisors approved a plan for spending the money, should the ballot pass



MARTINEZ — The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously signaled its support for a proposed sales tax measure and a plan for how to spend the $3.6 billion it’s expected to generate over the next three and a half decades on transportation improvements.


The supervisors’ endorsement was critical because without it the Contra Costa Transportation Authority could not pursue getting a tax measure on the March 2020 ballot.


The transportation authority wants a half-cent sales tax hike to help finance transportation projects over a 35-year period from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2055.


It proposes to spread around the extra sales tax revenue to provide traffic-congestion relief on major corridors, improve roads and enhance alternative modes of public transit. About 54.6 percent of the money would be used for transit and alternative modes of transportation, 26.7  for local streets and roads and 18.7 percent for highways and freeways, according to county documents.


County leaders hope the plan will lead to more bicycle lanes, walkways and free or reduced transit fares for students.


Contra Costa County passed its first transportation sales tax, Measure C, in 1988, and extended it through the subsequent Measure J half-cent sales tax, which expires in 2034. The money has paid for projects such as BART’s extensions to Pittsburg and Antioch, construction of the Caldecott Tunnel’s Fourth Bore, widening of Highway 4 and some transit centers.


According to the transportation authority, local funding from those measures helped attract $4.1 billion from state, federal and regional sources. The county hopes to continue that trend with a new sales tax measure…


… In arguing the need for another sales tax, Tim Haile, the authority’s deputy executive director of projects, said new technology is presenting ways to reduce carbon emissions and streamline traffic. He notes that the county’s population growth is straining the transportation infrastructure.


Part of the plan is to motivate employers to create jobs in areas where there’s already a lot of housing, the supervisors said before voting.


Supporters of a sales tax hike who attended Tuesday’s meeting included a couple dozen union carpenters. Representatives of  East Bay environmental and community groups such as TransForm, Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance also support the plan, Hayley Currier of land use and transportation nonprofit TransForm told supervisors.


The groups have worked with the authority to make the spending plan more sustainable than the one shot down in 2016 by adding more money for bus, pedestrian and bike improvements and prioritizing projects that reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, she noted.


“We’re excited about the commitment to reaching communities of concern,” Currier said.


Working with a variety of groups has helped secure more support for the plan, said Supervisor Federal Glover, who along with Mitchoff sits on the transportation authority’s board.


To qualify for the ballot, the measure must get support from a majority of cities in the county. With that, the county supervisors in November would have to approve an ordinance placing the measure on the March ballot. Sales tax measures earmarked for specific purposes such as transportation typically must be passed by at least two-thirds of voters.


“It’s a unique opportunity to ask residents, do you want to pay one half cent more in sales tax to reduce your commute?” Supervisor Candace Andersen said.