Measure P: Is it a road to recovery?

Crews Wednesday installed the new lane markers downtown.

There’s a long list of pending road projects throughout San Benito County without funding commitments, and local officials’ response to the shortfall is Measure P, a half-cent sales tax proposed on the June ballot.
On June 7, local voters will decide on the measure proposing a countywide 0.5 percent sales tax that would last for 30 years and fund an estimated $240 million in road projects. With broad support from local government, nonprofit and business leaders, Measure P would need 66.67 percent of the electorate’s vote for approval. That’s because it’s a special tax as opposed to a general tax that needs a mere majority of support for approval, explained Mary Gilbert, executive director from the Council of San Benito County Governments, which placed the item on the ballot.
With Measure P, which requires that COG specify how it plans to spend the money, the agency would allocate 50 percent of the new revenue toward Highway 25 improvements, 25 percent on local road improvements and 25 percent on local road maintenance.
The local sales tax rates are currently 7.5 percent in the unincorporated county, 8.5 percent in the City of Hollister and 8.25 percent in San Juan Bautista. Hollister is expected to propose a renewal to its special tax in November, and the county is preparing to float a 1 percent sales tax of its own in the general election.
With the Measure P proposal, the COG board started talks on the idea about a year ago around the same time when the agency had been conducting a survey of public sentiment on transportation spending, Gilbert said. It sprouted from the growing sense of urgency surrounding the state of roads and lacking funding sources for repairs and a new Highway 25, the primary commuter route to Silicon Valley.
With the recent adoption of increased traffic impact fees charged to offset costs of new development, the two sources could create a foundation for progress on projects like a prospective Highway 25 expansion, Gilbert said.
“That could get us to a point where we could actually build something,” she said. “The other benefit of having local funds is the ability to leverage those funds.”
The theory being that if local jurisdictions have funding capacity, there might be a greater likelihood for outside matches.
Still, there is no guarantee as stated in the Measure P verbiage that the funds would necessarily result in a new highway, Gilbert acknowledged. Specifically, the measure would require the funds go toward projects improving safety and traffic flow between San Felipe Road and Santa Clara County. Those projects could include intersection improvements, new travel lanes, and “other improvements” identified by COG in partnership with the state, according to the measure language. When asked about the firmness of a Highway 25 expansion with the funds, Gilbert referred to what’s written in the measure.
“That’s really what the board has to adhere to,” she said.
One of those COG board members is Hollister Councilman Victor Gomez. He is a staunch supporter of Measure P.
“I’m thrilled that this measure is on the ballot,” he said.
Gomez in an interview with the Free Lance mentioned how he attended last week’s workshop on a possible half-cent sales tax for roads in Santa Clara County, where he works full time on the political scene in transportation matters, and was pleased that the portion of Highway 25 near U.S. 101 made a list of potential projects with those funds.
Gomez also underscored a need for Measure P money to fund local maintenance and repairs.
“We’re talking about fixing some of the roughest roads in the city,” Gomez said.
For the Measure P draft, go to:sanbenitocog.org/pdf/Measure_P_Expenditure%20Plan.pdf.

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