Cutting Carbon As Well As Commutes


How VTA Can Maximize the Benefits of Santa Clara County’s 2016 Transportation Funding Measure


Chris Lepe

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Transportation has risen to the top of the policy agenda in Santa Clara County, as traffic congestion grows and people don’t have adequate alternatives to driving. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is hoping to infuse the transportation system with funding to overcome existing problems and prepare for a growing population.

On June 2nd, the VTA Board of Directors will vote on a spending plan for a transportation funding measure for Santa Clara County. If approved by the Board, the half-cent sales tax measure will be on the November 2016 ballot and will need a ⅔ supermajority of voters to pass. The measure would generate approximately $6.3 billion over 30 years; however, based on analysis of data from VTA, TransForm finds that the measure could do a better job at improving mobility, while tackling the climate crisis and improving air quality.

VTA staff has done considerable work in preparing for this measure, including developing an evaluation of projects on key measures of mobility, environmental impact, health and safety. Based in part on this evaluation, as well as a healthy dose of polls and politics, the VTA Board agreed to an initial draft spending plan on April 22, 2016 (see Table 3). 

Given that this will be the fourth sales tax for transportation in Santa Clara County (the other three are already in place), it is quite possible that this will be the single largest new transportation funding source that the County will see for a generation. With such limited funding we need to understand how the current proposal can maximize benefits and help meet key local, regional, and state goals.  Since VTA’s evaluation only looked at absolute impact, and did not consider the cost of the projects, it was impossible to gauge their “bang for the buck”.

TransForm requested and obtained data from VTA to conduct our own analysis in order to identify the most effective way to spend sales tax funds on a per-dollar basis. As can be seen in this report, we found VTA can improve their spending plan, but they need to make some changes.

Specifically, the expressway and highway projects proposed by VTA will significantly increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT), carbon emissions (CO2), and local air pollution (PM 2.5). In fact, the expressway and highway spending will negate much of the VMT and pollution reduction benefits that we gain from the BART extension and bicycle project spending in the measure.

To craft a measure that will achieve a better return on our investment, we recommend that VTA:

  • Shift funding from highway and expressway programs to local transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects and programs. This report shows why it is critical to boost funding levels for VTA’s core bus network in particular.
  • Include performance-based language in the funding measure so to ensure that projects funded by the highway and expressway programs not only reduce congestion but also reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT). VMT reduction strategies can include provision of improved transportation options, operations that promote carpooling, congestion pricing, and supporting new, tech-enabled services that increase vehicle occupancy. This should include competitive grants instead of projects that are dictated now, to take advantage of the innovation in the transportation sector.
  • Give priority in the bicycle and pedestrian funding for projects that take place in Communities of Concern as well as those in proximity to schools.

Key Report Findings: Cutting Carbon As Well As Commutes

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Per Weekday (Per $100 Million in Spending)

Metric Tons of Carbon Pollution (CO2) Per Weekday (Per $100 Million in Spending)

Benefit Comparison for driving and emissions reductions

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Per Weekday

Metric Tons of Carbon Pollution (CO2) Per Weekday