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Fresno County transportation officials are gearing up to ask voters to approve another extension of Measure C — the half-cent sales tax that funds most local transportation projects. This survey will help prioritize what ultimately may be funded.
But beware — there’s a long, murky road between the projects that get submitted and those that actually get built, even if voters approve the next extension of Measure C. A new, powerful committee is being formed by planners at Fresno County’s two regional transportation agencies to ultimately select which types of projects could get funded in the upcoming ballot measure.
Here’s the process
Every four years, regional transportation planners update what’s called a regional transportation plan, or RTP — essentially, a blueprint for how to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars of federal, state and local gas tax, sales tax and other funding set aside for Fresno County.
The project ideas that community members send in will be considered for inclusion in that plan.
This blueprint has a lot of influence on the location of future housing, stores, offices, schools and medical offices. Previous plans have included a significant focus on the expansion of freeways 41, 180 and 168 which made possible the development of new suburbs on the fringes of Clovis and Fresno.
(Check out this map to find out where projects are located in the 2018 version of the regional transportation plan, currently being updated.)
Transportation officials will share the survey results with city and county officials to identify how they fit into local land-use plans and how easy they are to implement, according to Brenda Veenendaal, public information officer with the Fresno Council of Governments.
The number of projects chosen will depend on the amount of funding available.
In December, city and county officials will return their priority projects list to the Fresno Council of Governments for inclusion in the RTP.
These projects are then evaluated by transportation planners, based on their ability to support the region’s projected growth, reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, support the region’s economy and improve safety, among other issues.
After the passage of SB 375 in 2008, there’s been more focus on making sure local transportation projects help Fresno County reduce carbon emissions to support the state’s climate goals. More than half of Fresno County’s emissions come from cars and trucks. Urban planning and climate experts frequently point toward strategies that encourage more people to use public transit, walk or bike as the best way to reduce local carbon emissions.
The Fresno Council of Governments’ Policy Board — composed of elected officials from each of the 15 incorporated cities of Fresno County and one representative from the Board of Supervisors — makes the final decision on which projects are included in the regional transportation plan. A decision on the final plan — a blueprint for all future funding — is expected by June 2022.
Committee forming to choose projects
Getting a project included in the regional transportation plan is no guarantee it will get built. “The regional transportation plan is a menu of projects to choose from,” said Mike Leonardo, executive director for the Fresno County Transportation Authority, whose agency oversees funds raised through Measure C.
Leonardo’s agency is in the process of selecting representatives to serve on an executive committee responsible for choosing which projects to fund in the next ballot measure. Although not finalized yet, this powerful committee will be responsible for allocating hundreds of millions of dollars of local taxes. Some members have been contacted, but the pandemic has slowed down the process of finalizing a list, Leonardo said.
Committee members are expected to represent a diversity of interests: business, agriculture, public health, cities and community-based organizations.
A more technical working group is being formed to advise the executive committee through the ballot measure formation process.
Measure C battle expected
In 2006, when the last Measure C extension was on the ballot, voters approved a sales tax increase which was split between freeway and road expansions, local streets and sidewalk repairs, and transit — along with other projects aimed at improving air quality, including the failed rail consolidation effort.
Even though the current sales tax doesn’t expire until 2027, going forward with a new ballot measure for November 2022 gives proponents multiple opportunities to get voter approval prior to expiration, should the effort fail next year. The measure will require approval from two-thirds of voters, a difficult threshold to meet.
Measure C has raised $771 million in local tax dollars since 2006. The first version of Measure C was approved by Fresno County voters in 1986.
The upcoming ballot measure process is expected to be contentious, with developers and some business interests pushing for freeway and road expansion, but community organizations pushing for more emphasis on fixing and maintaining local roads, sidewalks and improving transit with a focus on prioritizing working-class communities of color.
“Any effort to reauthorize Measure C must be driven by community residents through a participatory process,” said Veronica Garibay, co-director of Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “We need to address racial justice, climate change and the mobility needs of disadvantaged communities with strong resident oversight.”