Americans vote for more transit
November 5, 2020
The race for the White House and the Senate is still too early to call, but there are a number of ballot measure races where voters spoke out unequivocally in support of passenger rail.
Bay Area Voters Step in to Save Caltrain
Measure RR offered a financial lifeline to Caltrain, which struggling with a sharp decrease in ridership due to the pandemic. It also set the railroad on a firm financial footing in the future by providing predictable, dedicated source of revenue for the operator. While the ballot faced a significant hurdle, with California law requiring a two-thirds vote across the three affected Bay Area counties for the new tax measure to be put in place, with 100 percent of precincts reporting it looks as if the measure has comfortably passed.
“With this victory Caltrain has a bright future as it will now be able to provide congestion relief throughout the corridor by serving tens of thousands of new riders with a vastly improved, modernized rail system. With new electric trains powered by clean energy, more frequent service, and stable and affordable fares, Caltrain will be able to realize its full potential as the backbone of public transit on the Peninsula,” said Caltrain Board Chair and San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine in a statement. “While the pandemic has temporarily changed how we work and how we commute, our region will recover and our roads will become crowded again. With funds from Measure RR, Caltrain will continue to be a critical component of our public transit network and will help sustainably and equitably drive our economic recovery.”
Austin-Area Voters Are Finally on Board for a Regional Rail System
After decades of false starts, transit rail is finally coming to Austin after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition A.
Austin voters approved funding for the 21-mile Orange Line light rail, serving 22 stations between North and South Austin; the 15-mile Blue Line light rail, serving 20 stations and connecting Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown and North Austin; the Green Line, a new commuter rail service that would connect downtown to East Austin’s Colony Park; and a downtown transit tunnel that would move light rail operations below street level, increasing speed, on-time performance, and safety.
“These will be changes that will be with us for generation after generation, our kids and our children’s children will be looking back and saying this was a really big moment in Austin,” said Wade Cooper, chair of the Capital Metro board. “So we ask you to hold us accountable, to be engaged as we go forward and to be proud of what we accomplished."
Portland-Area Voters Reject Transportation Measure
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for transportation on Tuesday: a majority of Portland-area voters have declined Measure 26-218, the proposed regional transportation measure known as "Get Moving 2020".
The measure may have suffered from its sprawling nature—“Get Moving 2020” was a package of incremental improvements to roads and bridges, sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure with no big ambitious project for the entire region to rally behind. However, the rapidly growing Oregon city will need to find a Plan B quickly to deal with increasing road congestion.
The ballot measures supporters, for their part, are pointing to the jobs that this kind of infrastructure investment creates to win over doubtful residents.
"Transportation investments are a critical source of family-wage jobs and apprenticeship hours for our region. We were proud to stand with our labor partners to support Get Moving 2020 because we know what a difference it would make for thousands of hardworking families in communities across our region,” said Nathan Stokes, field representative supervisor for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, who also served on the Transportation Funding Task Force. “Although this was not the outcome we sought, we are committed to continuing to work with community, business and public partners, who recognize the value of transportation investments and the living-wage jobs they create."
Georgia’s Gwinnett County Transit Referendum Still Undecided
Finally, ballots are still being counted in Georgia. While all the attention is on the state’s Electoral College votes, the transit referendum that would connect Gwinnett County to MARTA also remains in the balance.
"My biggest concern right now is the transit vote," newly elected County Commissioner Nicole Love Hendrickson told reporters. "If that fails, then that is now going to be the (Board of Commissioners') challenge to start focusing on Day One: How do we start to build out a comprehensive transportation plan that connects us to the region? We were really depending on that (referendum passing) to really help move us forward with mobility, connectivity, to help us manage our growth."
"The National Association of Railroad Passengers has done yeoman work over the years and in fact if it weren’t for NARP, I'd be surprised if Amtrak were still in possession of as a large a network as they have. So they've done good work, they're very good on the factual case."
Robert Gallamore, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University and former Federal Railroad Administration official, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University
November 17, 2005, on The Leonard Lopate Show (with guest host Chris Bannon), WNYC New York.