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CA Transpo Commission: Let’s Ask Again for $2B for Active Transportation

8:18 AM PDT on October 18, 2021

Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

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"Last time I just threw it out there," said California Transportation Commissioner Bob Alvarado about his suggestion to ask Governor Newsom to pass along some of the unprecedented budget surplus to the Active Transportation Program. This time around, he broadened his request to include funding for transit.

"Let's direct staff to seek two one-time augmentations next year," he said at Wednesday's meeting of the California Transportation Commission. The request was the same one he made last spring: $1.5 billion to cover the backlog of ATP projects, plus $500 million "for bike highways and low stress networks."

That request had stirred up enthusiastic responses from active transportation advocates, who sought to work with CTC staff about how best to spend the proposed amount. But in the end it didn't get far. Governor Newsom instead proposed an extra $500 million for the ATP, which could have been quickly deployed to projects that had already applied and received high scores but weren't awarded grants because the program is underfunded.

But even that $500 million request fell apart, along with several other transportation funding proposals, when they became bargaining chips in negotiations over high-speed rail funding. The $500 million for the ATP, plus $2 billion for transit projects - including about $1 billion for LA's preparations for the 2028 Olympic games - and proposed funds for climate adaptation projects and planning grants was all sent back to the general fund when legislators wouldn't agree to release the bond funding requested by the CA High-Speed Rail Authority.

A different set of funding requests did make it into last year's budget, however. A list of earmarks for transportation and other infrastructure projects, presumably submitted by legislators for their districts, was tagged on to the final budget bill - including funding for local projects that were thus able to sidestep the Active Transportation Program scoring process.

Commissioner Alvarado piled on to last spring's proposal this time around, adding a new request of $2.5 billion for transit projects in the State Transportation Improvement Program.

"This would be in addition to the $2.5 billion proposed by the governor for transit projects for the Olympics," he said, pausing to thank the governor for that proposal. "It could be for new projects, and to accelerate existing projects. We think California would be well served to use the general fund surplus for transportation purposes."

The motion directed staff to develop a proposal for spending the $4.5 billion total and sending it to the Governor's office to consider in his budget for next year.

But be assured that other worthy programs will also be stepping forward to request some of that sweet budget surplus. And while legislative analysts generally expect there to be a budget surplus next year, there are no guarantees that will be so.

The first sign will come when Governor Newsom releases his budget proposal in January, but negotiations will continue up until and likely beyond the official budget deadline in June, as they did this year.

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