Transportation on the Ballot in 2015 Elections

While 2015 may be an off-year for elections in most states, it has the potential to be an important one for transportation in a variety of places. Here’s a roundup of how transportation is factoring into this year’s key state contests and ballot measures.

The Gubernatorial Contests

  • In Kentucky, the gubernatorial candidates have weighed in on whether Northern Kentucky needs a new Brent Spence Bridge, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. Both the Republican candidate, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, and the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway, have said they’re against tolling to fund a $2.6 billion renovation of the old bridge and construction of a new one. Bevin has expressed support for a plan pushed by some in the business community to instead build a new southern bypass to divert traffic off the existing bridge. Kentucky and Ohio transportation officials say that would cost considerably more than a new bridge and not divert enough traffic. Both Bevin and Conway also have said the federal government should kick in a significant chunk of the funding for a new bridge. The existing bridge is considered functionally obsolete due to too narrow travel lanes, no room to stop in emergencies and much more traffic than it was designed to carry.
  • In Louisiana, where voters have already winnowed four gubernatorial candidates down to two in advance of a runoff election next month, candidates have suggested devoting more of the state’s transportation trust fund to construction costs, without saying how to pay for activities currently covered by the trust fund. Traffic congestion in Baton Rouge became a major issue in the campaign. Democrat John Bel Edwards has said a new Mississippi River bridge could provide a solution. Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter wants to relocate an exit along Washington Street.
  • Efforts to maintain roads and bridges in Mississippi have become an issue in gubernatorial and legislative elections this fall. State transportation officials say the state needs to spend $400 million more a year just to stem the tide of infrastructure deterioration. A legislative panel in 2013 proposed raising taxes to increase revenue by $600 million but Gov. Phil Bryant—who is up for re-election this fall—rejected the idea. Another push to increase state transportation funding could be coming in the 2016 legislature.

State & Local Ballot Measures

  • Texas voters will decide whether to take a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue to add it to the State Highway Fund. If approved, Proposition 7 would generate about $3 billion a year for road construction, maintenance, right-of-way acquisition and paying back transportation bond debt. The proposition is being sold to voters as a solution to congestion in the state but some fear that investing in roads only will actually produce more traffic.
  • Voters in 17 of Utah’s 29 counties will decide the fate of Proposition 1, which would enact a 0.25 percent general sales tax (excluding food purchases) to “provide funding for transportation improvements such as roads, sidewalks, trails, maintenance, bus and rail service and safety features.”
  • Voters in Washington State will decide whether they approve of an 11.9 cent gas tax increase passed by the legislature this summer. It’s an advisory question only. Meanwhile, Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray is asking voters to approve a property tax measure to fund a $1 billion plan to repair and replace the city’s aging roads and bridges. And a Snohomish County proposition to be considered would raise the sales tax to fund more frequent Community Transit bus service.

More Transportation on the Ballot Next Tuesday

  • Fraser, CO considers a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund local buses.
  • Winter Park, CO considers a 2 percent sales tax increase to help fund operation of the Winter Park Resort Shuttle and expand the bus fleet.
  • Delta County, MI votes on a 5-year renewal of a property tax to fund Delta Area Transit Authority operations.
  • Scio Township, MI decides on a 10-year property tax to expand Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority bus service.
  • Salem, OR considers a 0.21 percent payroll tax to fund expanded bus service.

Already In the Books

Some states already considered transportation-related ballot measures this summer and fall. A couple of the more notable examples include:

  • Arizona: In August, voters in Phoenix approved a 0.3 percent sales tax increase to fund a $31.5 billion package of new light rail lines, bus expansion and street improvements over the next 35 years.
  • Louisiana: This month voters approved a measure to allow the state treasurer to invest taxpayer money in a new state infrastructure bank. They rejected a separate measure that would have diverted money from the state’s rainy day fund to transportation projects.

Further Reading