Opening Up Gridlock

Voters put their money where the pain is.
by | January 2006

Get out your asphalt. Voters across the country looked favorably on transportation initiatives this fall, and new ballot measures will crop up this year.

At the state and local level, 21 of the 25 ballot measures won approval in November. The biggest packages were in New York, where voters agreed to $3 billion in new bonding authority; Ohio, where voters said yes to $2 billion worth of bonds for roads; and Washington State, where voters rejected an initiative to roll back $5.5 billion worth of new gas taxes. All of this came on top of record taxpayer- endorsed transportation spending in 2004, to the tune of $55 billion.

States and localities are turning to voters to approve transportation projects in part to attract federal matching funds. In many cases, they presented great detail about the particular projects that would be funded in order to gain voter confidence that the money wouldn't be squandered.

"A lot of state and local governments have gotten savvy about putting together specific packages of projects that voters can look at," says Jason Jordan, of the Center for Transportation Excellence, a Washington, D.C.-based policy center. "Unlike a lot of proposals, these are concrete projects"--literally.

Several states and localities are already laying the groundwork for ballot measures in 2006, including Tucson, Kansas City and Broward County, Florida. They all could be dwarfed by infrastructure investments that will be a major source of debate in California this year. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a package with a price tag that, he says, could exceed $50 billion. Although the details are a long way from being worked out, state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata also views infrastructure investment as a top priority.