Analysis: Davis Roads About to Get More Bad News?

Earlier this month, the Davis voters voted down (sort of) a parcel tax measure that would have funded $3 million for roads over the next decade, in hopes of closing what is believed to be about an $8 million gap.  Measure I needed two-thirds vote to be approved and only received 57 percent.

The bad news could multiply if a proposition that qualified for the ballot yesterday becomes law.

The measure would eliminate recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing the gas tax put in place this year.  That means about $2.9 billion would be eliminated in 2019-20 – which would have increased to $4.9 billion annually by 2020-21.

Polls show most California voters “want to kill the new tax.”

Governor Brown blasted the initiative: “This flawed and dangerous measure pushed by Trump’s Washington allies jeopardizes the safety of millions of Californians by stopping local communities from fixing their crumbling roads and bridges. Just say no.”

But the LA Times points out that Governor Brown is up against a campaign financed by national Republican leaders including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the California Republican Party and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox.

The paper reports, “Together they spent $1.7 million to put the initiative on the ballot, and are expected to spend millions more to make sure voters repeal the tax and fees, a campaign they hope will turn out a conservative tide for congressional races.”

“This is a message to the millions of forgotten Californians ignored by the Sacramento political elite, help is on the way,” said John Cox in a written statement. “Let this also be a message to every special interest in Sacramento, we’re coming for you. You can outspend the people, but you can’t outvote the people, because there are more of us than there are of you.”

Meantime, Gavin Newsom, the Democratic nominee and favorite to become the next governor, opposes the repeal, arguing that the money “is needed to handle a backlog of road and bridge repairs.”

Governor Brown, said to be fighting for his legacy, has about $14.8 million in his campaign account which would be available to fight the repeal.

“If you say no, what? We are just going to go back to congestion, call a halt to this project, stop the projects for the Olympics?” Governor Brown said. “That is really dumb and I don’t believe Californians are going to do that. That’s why we want to vote ‘no’ on any attempt to repeal and throw back this tax.”

Governor Brown believes that there is a large backlog of road and bridge repairs that will require additional money.  Senate Bill 1 raised the state gas tax by 12 cents per gallon and boosted the diesel fuel tax by 20 cents per gallon.

The front line in the fight against the repeal may be local mayors.  For example, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti argued that “potholed roads and crumbling bridges in their communities need the influx of dollars provided by the new tax and fees.

“If you want to pay for more popped tires, realigned axles, you want to see our roads continue to deteriorate, go ahead and repeal SB 1,” Mr. Garcetti said. “But we all know like with our houses, if we don’t fix the leak we are going to be paying a lot more in the future.”

Locally, we figure that SB1 might mean $1.5 million annually for local roads in Davis.  With the failure of Measure I, we could have to look at about $4.5 million or so to close the funding gap in roads.

That could be very bad news.  One of the points that was never fully made during the Measure I election is the multiplier effect of deferred maintenance on roadways.  The first problem is one of inflation – in the past the city has projected an increase of about 8 percent per year just for the cost of asphalt.  Some of that had been mitigated with lower oil prices, but the cost of oil has been going up in the recent years – independent of the gas tax – and so costs for road repairs is on the rise.

But the bigger problem is that the cost of road repair goes up exponentially as the roadway conditions deteriorate.

Initial costs are less than $10 per yard, but they could increase to nearly $100 per yard if the road is not repaired on schedule.

In other words, as conditions decline, the costs are likely to triple and then increase up to ten-fold. That is how projects go from $100 million in road repairs to over $400 million in maintenance needs fairly rapidly.

The piece of analysis we never have received is how much it would cost the city if voters did not approve the $3 million in parcel tax revenues.

That number figures to get even higher as we are threatened to lose the state SB1 money as well.

The thing is – people may not like the gas tax, but the cost of gas is going up by a lot more than just 12 cents per gallon.  But the timing could not have been worse.  We will have to see how this campaign plays out, but right now it doesn’t look like good news for the local roadways.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron

    I believe that these funds are also being counted on to fund transportation infrastructure such as the bicycle overpass from Olive, over the railroad tracks.  (In other words, using public funds to help facilitate private developments, such as Lincoln 40.)

    If so, perhaps the city should have ensured that these funds were actually in place, before approving that development.

    1. Todd Edelman

      Lincoln40’s residents represent a minority of users of an over-crossing: In an aggregate with the Olive to Pole Line crossing it will be a hot connection for a huge part of South Davis… and it’s the slightly indirect way from e.g. Sterling to the train station, as it involves one intersection only. Sterling residents will go this way to UC Davis campus!

      (Leaving aside Lincoln40’s general appropriateness, affordability, and… um… location, they are paying for a share of the crossing — but they’re also in the way because of the land given to them the overlap needs at least one full 360 degree loop on the southern side. Unless we can get this changed, it will be an annoying thing to cross twice or more per day, and a sort of torture for anyone who believes in modern, best practice in cycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Seriously, a looped and shared path is dangerous. (Remember once again that the city has not had a Senior Civil Engineer with transport expertise for well over a year now –a good one would seriously object to the plan.)

    2. Robb Davis

      Incorrect.  SB-1 funds are for maintenance and repair.  The City of Davis is absolutely NOT counting on them for the overcrossing construction.

    3. Ron

      Robb:  Thanks for the clarification/correction.

      Begs the question, though – where are those funds coming from (for both of the overpasses)?  (And, has all funding been approved?)

      Can a rough breakdown of the funding sources be provided?

      1. Ron

        O.K. – a different subject, I guess.

        However, the way you phrased your response above (incorrectly?) suggests that the funding has already been approved/received.

    4. Alan Miller

      How many more times, people?

      It’s UNDER-pass.  Or BUST!

      I have supported a crossing here, probably one of the most ardent advocates for the last two decades.  If you want to look like Emeryville or Oakland, Oakland Coliseum stations with a massive UGLY structure, fine, go forward like sheep. I will not support the ugly specter as proposed. Not to mention the spiraling disfunction. The idea is to ENCOURAGE people to use infrastructure because it’s CONVENIENT, SAFE and ATTRACTIVE.

      Or we can be like Sacramento, Dixon, Richmond, Santa Clara and San Jose and a large and ever-growing list on the Caltrain line and have the passengers walk a shorter-distance under the tracks, and keep the skyscape free.

      1. WesC

        Yes!!  An underpass is the only intelligent way to go.  I have never seen an overpass that is not an eyesore. I actually question whether either one is necessary.  UCD students will have no need or desire to use it to get to campus or downtown.  If there happen to be a few K-12 students living in the area who are not chauffeured to school by mom/dad (probably a rarity) , walking or riding their bike a few extra blocks to the current tunnel on their way to school would be the best thing for their health.

        1. Alan Miller

          I was of the opinion that building the Davis Gateway, and thus another (ped bike) tunnel on the north side of Richards under the tracks, would allow for ped/bike traffic to flow into downtown without crossing Richards TWICE as current, and thus would be safe enough and fast (two less long lights) enough that building the crossing at the depot may not be necessary.

          But apparently, at least according to the “City”, UPRR has also made that undercrossing “difficult”.  Strange the laws of physics, or UPRR, or the City, seem to be different in Dixon, Santa Clara, Vacaville, etc.

          Dropping students in the Amtrak station also makes them go across the tracks twice and behind the parked cars along H Street behind ACE to get to J Street to bike north — a very dangerous place and hardly a “safe route to school”.

          An EYESORE yes, but also a user-killer.  A spiral climb to 25-feet on the station side.  Depending on the starting point, many will just elect to go back over to Olive/Richards, as that is not convenient.

          A future four-way depressed ped/bike way crossing at this station is possible, and expensive-yes, but worth it — even if done in steps — as has amazing potential for re-directing bike-ped trips for the entire future of Davis.  An overcrossing would preclude this (unless you want a maze-in-the-sky).

        2. Ron

          I’m also failing to see the logic of a crossing to the Amtrak station.  (That’s not where UCD students will be traveling, every day.)

          Yeah, build it correctly (and make it attractive) in the first place. If Todd is correct, it will be used by others (not just those on Olive Drive), as well.

          All off-topic, of course.

  2. Todd Edelman

    Readers, please contact me if you’d like help develop my concept of a regressivity-mitigated toll on the causeway crossing – perhaps $200 million annually for Yolo County or the region: todd(at)

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