2013 Election Roundup: Transportation

Transportation was on the ballot around the country in a variety of ways last week—both directly and indirectly. While most of the action was not at the state level, there were a number of mayoral contests, bond measures and local tax increases that could have a significant impact in communities across the nation. Here’s a roundup of what happened and what it all might mean.

Gubernatorial Elections

  • New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected to a second term. His Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, had called for investing in a new rail tunnel to New York, The Bernardsville News noted recently. Early in his first term, Christie pulled the plug on the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel under the Hudson River, citing the potential for higher than expected costs. A March 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that the cost concerns were mostly overblown and that by pulling the plug, New Jersey and the region lost out on a project that would have helped meet the projected increase in travel demand and generated significant economic activity in the region. Christie espoused a “pay-as-you-go” approach in the five-year, $8 billion transportation plan he introduced in 2011.
  • Virginia: In the election of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Virginians get a governor who lobbied the state legislature earlier this year in support of a transportation funding package supported by his predecessor, outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. But that doesn’t mean McAuliffe will necessarily be supportive of all of McDonnell’s transportation priorities. Some wonder whether McAuliffe’s win may have implications for the Bi-County Parkway, a divisive proposed $440 million highway in the outer D.C. suburbs, Streetsblog Capitol Hill reported. The four-lane, 10.4 mile divided highway would run north-south between heavily congested Routes 50 and 66. Critics say the parkway would do little to relieve the congestion and argue it would actually create even more traffic and sprawl. McDonnell has fast-tracked planning and approvals for the project. McAuliffe avoided taking a stand on the parkway during the campaign.   

Mayoral Elections

  • Connecticut: Advocates of complete streets are optimistic about new mayors elected in New Haven and Stamford, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign reports. State Senator Toni Harp won the New Haven mayoral race. Last month, she issued a policy paper supportive of a city bike share system, protected bike lanes, lower speed limits near schools and hospital and upgrades to the city’s bus system. Advocates hope Harp adheres to the policies of outgoing mayor John DeStefano, who they say made New Haven a leader in the livable streets movement nationwide. In Stamford, mayor-elect David Martin has said he will work to make streets more bike and pedestrian friendly and plans to ride a bike himself to set an example.
  • Massachusetts: State representative and labor leader Martin Walsh upset City Councilor John Connolly in the Boston mayoral race. Streetsblog reports that Walsh is “not expected to be a visionary leader on transportation issues” but he has stood for lower speed limits in urban areas and supports dedicated bus lanes in underserved areas and making neighborhoods more livable by improving conditions for walking and biking.
  • Minnesota: City Council member Betsy Hodges won the mayoral race in Minneapolis. Streetsblog reports that Hodges is a strong smart growth proponent and supports the city’s streetcar plans.
  • New York: Bill de Blasio’s election as New York City mayor has some local advocates concerned since de Blasio has in the past shown some hostility to the street redesigns installed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (more on her below), Streetsblog reported. But de Blasio has also gone on record in support of the city’s bike lanes and pedestrian plazas and has promised to reduce traffic deaths and improve bus service.
  • Ohio: In Cincinnati, former councilmember John Cranley won the mayoral race, which could put the Cincinnati Streetcar project in jeopardy all over again, reports Next City. The project has survived two citywide referenda in 2009 and 2011, but the mayoral contest was seen as somewhat of another referendum on the issue. Cranley has vowed to “get out of” the project, even though contracts have been signed and a half-mile of track will already be laid by the time he takes office. Killing the streetcar could actually prove more expensive than keeping it going—to the tune of $29 million by one estimate. Cranley would need approval of the City Council to scuttle the project, but with the election of three new members Tuesday, opposition was bolstered. Some speculate the Council could decide to put the streetcar’s ultimate fate in the hands of voters once again with another ballot measure in 2014.
  • Pennsylvania: Long-time City Council member Bill Peduto was the winner in Pittsburgh. Streetsblog noted that Peduto has “ambitious plans to make the city more bike-friendly and to invest in a new light rail system.”
  • Texas: Houston Mayor Annise Parker won a third term. Streetsblog noted she recently used an executive order to institute a complete streets policy in the nation’s fourth-largest city. In addition, she has helped move forward the city’s light rail system and promised to make cycling safer.
  • Washington: Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who had the support of bike and transit advocates, was defeated in his bid for re-election by state Sen. Ed Murray, Streetsblog reported. Murray’s campaign received support from groups who were upset about a recently-installed protected bike lane in the city.

Ballot Measures

Voters approved 91 percent of ballot measures to increase or extend funding for highways, bridges and transit on Tuesday. The approved measures hold a total value of nearly $240 million, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). Overall there were 21 ballot initiatives at the state and local level, which was the largest number in a decade for an off-year election. Four of five bond initiatives on the ballot were approved, along with 12 measures for increasing, extending or renewing a sales tax for transportation purposes. On average, successful ballot measures were approved with 67 percent of the vote.

Bond Measures

  • Arizona: Voters in Mesa approved a $79 million bond measure, a portion of which will fund pedestrian improvements and multi-use paths and trails, Streetsblog reported. Residents of Fountain Hills approved $8.2 million in general obligation bonds to fund new road improvements, ARTBA noted.
  • Maine: Voters approved $150 million in bond packages last week, including a $100 million proposal to fund road and bridge projects that supporters say will bring $150 million in matching federal and state funds, the Associated Press reported. The bonds will finance $76 million for highway improvements, $27 million for bridges, $24 million for ports and rail, and $5 million for local governments, ARTBA reported.
  • Virginia: Residents of Loudoun County passed a $3.18 million bond to fund public road projects, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association reported.

Local Tax Increases

  • California: Four cities in Marin County approved sales tax increases to fund transportation and other general services, ARTBA reported. One of them, San Rafael, extended the city’s one-half cent sales tax for 20 years while also implementing a 0.25 percent increase to bring the city’s sales tax to 9.25 percent, making it the highest sales tax rate in the United States.
  • Iowa: Cedar Rapids voters renewed a one-cent local option sales tax to fund transportation projects for a 10-year period. The new revenues will fund street maintenance, repair, construction and reconstruction projects, ARTBA said.
  • Michigan: Schoolcraft County in the Upper Peninsula approved a five-year property tax increase to fund expanded transit services, Streetsblog noted.
  • Montana: Voters in Missoula approved a property tax hike that will increase bus frequency, extend evening service on high-use routes and increase van service for seniors and the disabled. Streetsblog reported that the measure, which will allow for the expansion of offerings of the 35-year-old Mountain Line transit agency, was supported by the business community and newspapers.
  • Ohio: Lake County voters passed a 0.25 percent set aside from the county sales tax that will generate 60 to 65 percent of the public transit authority’s annual operating budget, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence.
  • Washington: Larry Ehl of Transportation Issues Daily writes that two rural, conservative counties in Washington State voted to approve sales tax increases to sustain or create transit service but urban voters in Tacoma, Washington rejected an increase to fill potholes, repave streets, improve school traffic zone safety and synchronize traffic signals.

Further Reading

  • Ryan Holeywell of Governing magazine assesses the legacies of New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, both of whom are likely to leave office soon.
  • The Center for Transportation Excellence has a database of transit-specific transportation ballot measures and voting results, which can be found here.