It was almost 15 years ago that I wrote my first column for The Modesto Bee about my desire to have a transportation tax for Highway 132 (“Never mind the budget, we need a wider 132,” Dec. 12, 2002). Even then, the highway was the link between Modesto and the global economy and a deadly stretch of road that has cost nearly 100 lives.
Now, a decade and a half later, it looks like making Highway 132 safer might finally be possible.
How did we get to this place?
Many in the community like Denny Jackman and I have been working with Caltrans, StanCOG, the city of Modesto and Stanislaus County on infrastructure improvements, connectivity, goods movement and plain ol’ bad traffic patterns. Sadly, we’ve been covering some of the same ground year after year, only to find out that we didn’t make the cut for funding. Why?
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Because another county already designated as a “self-help county,” meaning it has a transportation tax in place, was in line for funding before us. Whether it is upgrading surface streets on D, Yosemite, 9th or wherever, it seems we were always relegated to the kids’ table.
We know that major cities, like those in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, take a disproportionate share of the state’s transportation dollars. We also know that we are not even at the bargaining table because we – as a community – have no skin in the game.
The basic taxes we collect don’t come close to creating leverage for the monster amounts of money it takes to do existing maintenance, let alone build major road projects.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a big spender of tax dollars, and I don’t want to pay any more taxes than are appropriate. As a local business owner with over 100 employees, we are very careful about costs. But this is different.
In this case, we will get back far more than we are putting in. For years, we have all paid into the state’s highway fund and little of it has come back to our county. This is a way for us to get our tax dollars back and put them to work on specific projects we choose. If we don’t become a self-help county, our tax money will go to yet another project somewhere else.
Places where we have gridlock will get attention. I’m sure many of you would pay just to get off the Briggsmore overpass when it’s backed up. The potholes in our own neighborhoods will see action. With a better-connected 132, people who commute will quit taking back-road shortcuts west of town through our prime agricultural areas, making those roads safer.
Voting “yes” on Measure L puts us on the list to receive federal and state assistance on major projects. It allows us to immediately start upgrading our local streets and roads. There is accountability on what happens and citizens will see results soon after the vote succeeds. And we’ll be able to put future projects on deck to proceed when a viable financing stream is found.
We’ll finally get our seat at the table.
Want to see how this works? Look at San Joaquin and Fresno counties, where there are far better roads. This is all about making our community better, attracting new business and making this place we call home more livable. The best way to do this is by all chipping in a little bit to get something we can’t do on our own. Go to the very end of the ballot and Vote “yes” on L.
Chris Murphy lives with his family in Modesto; he is a community volunteer for music, the arts and Modesto heritage. firstname.lastname@example.org