Transportation experts are watching this election closely — and not just because both presidential candidates have promised sweeping investments in the nation’s infrastructure.
Voters across the country will weigh in on nearly $200 billion worth of transit-related funding measures on Tuesday, with over 40 appearing on the ballot in 19 different states.
State, city and local governments have increasingly turned to the ballot box to boost transportation spending, as long-term funding solutions at the federal level have evaded Washington lawmakers. The federal gas tax, which finances the Highway Trust Fund, hasn’t been raised in over 20 years.
On the ballot this year are initiatives that would raise property, sales, carbon or cigarette taxes to fund local transportation and infrastructure projects. Voters will also decide on other issues such as whether to lock in certain dollars for transportation in Illinois and whether to construct a light rail line in Virginia Beach.
“It is clear that public transit is the big focus for cities and regions: more than half of the total potential funding would go toward everything from rail to buses to ferries,” wrote Eno Center for Transportation policy analyst Emily Han and communications manager Ann Henebery. “But there are also important questions for seaports, airports, and bike paths.”
Here are 10 of the major transportation ballot measures and initiatives being tracked by Eno on Election Day.
Voters in the Detroit region — which is the largest U.S. metropolis without a transit system — will consider a $4.6 billion plan to connect Detroit, the suburbs and the airport through a rail and bus network. The proposal would be paid for through a property tax increase and bring a regional transit system to the Detroit area for the first time in 50 years.
In Los Angeles County, residents will vote on Measure M, a sales tax increase that would fund major transit projects in the area. One of those projects includes a rail line to connect downtown L.A. with southeast cities, but critics worry that the proposed line wouldn’t be completed until 2041.
A statewide measure would expand two major seaports in order to accommodate bigger ships. The $70 million proposal would issue general obligation bonds to improve the ports in Providence and at Quonset Point, with Eno looking to see whether “voters are willing to support investments in economy-focused projects, versus those aimed at their individual commutes.”
Looking for new ways to fund infrastructure, Louisiana is proposing a sovereign wealth fund that would be financed by excess oil and gas revenues and corporate franchise and income tax revenues. A portion of the fund would be used on transportation projects once the fund hits $5 billion.
A ballot measure in Seattle would give Sound Transit, the metropolitan area’s regional transit system, nearly $54 billion over 25 years to pay for rail extensions and bus-rapid transit corridors. The proposal would be paid for through a tax increase.
After the price tag for building Honolulu’s rail system exploded, voters will decide whether the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s responsibilities should be shifted to the Honolulu Department of Transportation. Eno said the ballot measure could “provide a precedent for voters changing a transit agency’s governance.”
Eno is watching two ballot measures in Atlanta that would pump funding into the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. One would raise the sales tax by half a cent in order to generate $2.5 billion for expanding transit services. The other would raise the sales tax by 0.4 percent to raise $340 million for other transportation projects, including a bikeshare program.
Wake County, N.C.
A ballot measure in Wake County is proposing a half-penny sales tax to raise $1 billion toward a $2.3 billion regional transit plan, which would help expand bus and commuter rail service in areas that lack transit access. The region does not currently have a cohesive transit network.
New Jersey already struck a deal to hike the state’s gasoline tax, but now voters will decide whether to lock in those extra dollars strictly for transportation-related projects. Republican Gov. Chris Christie had to halt most transportation projects this summer because the state’s Transportation Trust Fund was nearly broke.
A ballot measure in Arlington County would issue $30 million in general obligation bonds for the Washington Metro's capital improvement program. The beleaguered transit agency is facing a major budget shortfall after dealing with a string of high-profile safety issues and implementing a major repair project beginning this summer.