Editorial: Half a Cent for Billions of Transit

Trains, roads and sidewalks

Four out of every five people you see in Gilroy work somewhere else. Even the majority of the City Council—including the mayor and vice mayor—commute to San Jose or further for work.
Every one of them can tell you, the commute is a nightmare.  And the better business gets in Silicon Valley, the worse it is for the 80 percent of Gilroyans who commute there. One study shows congestion has increased 40 percent since 2010, meaning drivers spend 64 hours a year stuck in traffic—almost two work weeks (or one week if you work at Google).
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has a plan to help. Come November, if things go the way this organization of 400 businesses wants, voters will be asked to levy on themselves a half-cent sales tax to raise $6 billion for improvements that include, on the lowest level, pothole and road repair, and on the highest, more trains, quick transfers from trains to BART and new freeway interchanges.
Carl Guardino, the group’s CEO came to Gilroy to make a pitch last week. Gilroy, he says, stands to benefit more than any other area from the improvements. The South Valley has been neglected up to now and as one of the last affordable cities in the region, Gilroy can help provide housing for the rest of the area, if transit problems are cured.
We are enthused about the prospects.
Some of the proposals for Gilroy include: widening Santa Teresa Boulevard to four lanes ($22 million); a new 101 interchange at Buena Vista ($45 million), improvements to the U.S. 101/Hwy. 152 on-ramp ($65 million); and pothole and road maintenance ($30 million).
Environmentalists will be happy with the way the money is structured: roughly half on roads and half on mass transit ($914 million to make Caltrain all electric), bike lanes and sidewalks focusing around schools ($250 million), BART ($1.4 billion) and expanded bus service for seniors, students and disabled ($350 million).
The Bay Area was the first place in the country to tax itself for transportation improvements in 1984, says Guardino, and now there is a chance to move ahead and solve one of the area’s biggest problems without waiting for the federal government to step off its mountaintop and deliver something we really need. He says the CEOs are leading the way, paying not only retail sales tax, but paying 27 cents of every dollar they earn in business-to-business sales.
“We put our wallets where our words are when it comes to transportation issues,” he says.
Gilroyans hate taxes and they are mistrustful of government, but sometimes you have to do something besides complain. The South Bay rejected the early proposals to have BART ring the Bay for all the wrong reasons and is paying for it a thousand times over now. Gilroy rejected redevelopment funds for downtown while Morgan Hill took them and, well, look around. You know it could have been better.
We will be listening carefully to what the leadership group is proposing and hope you will also. It could be a good chance to walk the walk, or ride the ride, much better than we do now.

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