Major Transit Expansions, Gig Worker Regulations, and Sidewalks: 10 Measures to Watch on Election Day

Millions of Americans have already cast their ballots in record breaking numbers in the run up to next Tuesday’s general election. In addition to the presidential contest and a slew of other federal, state, and local races, there are a considerable number of transportation-related measures on the ballot this year. After some initial uncertainty over whether the pandemic would affect plans for transportation ballot measures, many states and localities have pushed ahead with their plans to bring major initiatives to voters.

Results of transportation ballot measures from the spring and summer primary elections were mixed. Several sales tax measures in California failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass, and an income tax measure for general fund revenue and roads was rejected by voters in Toledo, while other transit levy renewals in West Virginia passed easily. The diversity of measures on the ballot for Tuesday’s general election, coupled with potentially historic turnout, will make for an interesting look at how voters’ penchant for approving most transportation measures fares during the pandemic.

As part of our ongoing Transportation at the Ballot Box series, Eno is cataloguing state and local ballot measures related to transportation. This year’s ballot initiatives include several major tax and bond measures for roads and transit, as well as other advisory measures addressing labor regulations for ridehail drivers, urban development restrictions, and sidewalk construction.

As we head closer to Election Day, here is a preview of some of the investments and proposals on the ballot around the country: 

Major Public Transit Measures

Among the largest and most high profile items on the ballot this year are ones that involve major expansions of public transit service and revenue streams.

  1. Austin’s Proposition A for Project Connect

Voters in Austin will weigh in on an 8.75 cent property tax measure to help fund a major expansion of Austin’s public transportation system, officially referred to as Project Connect. The revenue from Proposition A will be used as the local match for the initial $7.1 billion investment in Project Connect, of which 45 percent is expected to be covered through Federal funding.

Project Connect’s initial investment includes 27 miles of new rail service in the form of two new light rail lines, a Downtown Transit Tunnel, a new commuter rail line, and an extension of the existing Red Line commuter rail service. Additional projects include expanded bus service, new park and rides, and a new fleet of e-bikes near transit hubs. Proposition A also includes a $300 million anti-displacement fund to support transit oriented development and protection of affordable housing along the new proposed routes.

Watch a recording of Eno’s webinar on Prop A here.

  1. Gwinnett County, GA Transit Sales Tax Referendum

Gwinnett County has referred a 30 year, one percent local option sales tax to voters, the largest measure on the ballot this year in terms of revenue generated. This measure is expected to raise nearly $13 billion in new investment for 82 major public transit projects. Proposed projects include a $3.6 billion extension of existing MARTA heavy rail service, a new multimodal transportation hub, paratransit service expansion, on demand microtransit service, and 40 new bus routes (16 local routes, 13 commuter bus lines, seven arterial rapid transit routes, and four BRT lines). This measure comes after a previous $5.4 billion, one-cent sales tax initiative to expand transit service into Gwinnett County failed in March 2019.

  1. Bay Area Measure RR – CalTrain Sales Tax

Measure RR will appear on ballots for Bay Area voters living in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. The measure would authorize a 30 year, 1/8th-cent sales tax to provide an estimated $100 million in dedicated, annual funding for CalTrain, which currently relies on fare revenue and contributions from member agencies. While much of the revenue raised from the measure would go towards sustaining operations amid the pandemic, the measure would also help fund future expansion of CalTrain service from five to eight trains per hour, investments in system affordability, and a variety of other capital improvements and maintenance needs. The measure will require a 2/3rd majority vote cumulatively across all three counties to pass.

Watch a recording of Eno’s webinar on Measure RR here.

  1. Portland’s Get Moving 2020 Initiative

Portland area voters will decide whether to implement a payroll tax of up to 0.75 percent on employers with more than 25 employees to fund 150 transportation projects along 17 primary travel corridors. Projects include a new light rail line between Downtown Portland and Washington County, a new regional rapid bus network, free youth transit passes for students, pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, bridge replacements, and upgrades to signals and intersections.

Watch a recording of Eno’s webinar on the Get Moving Initiative here.

Statewide and Local Measures

There are several notable state and local measures affecting transportation revenue, transit operations, labor laws around ridehail drivers, and neighborhood infrastructure.

  1. California Proposition 22 – Ridehail Driver Classification

One of the higher-profile and controversial measures on the ballot is Proposition 22 in California. This initiative emerged in response to Assembly Bill 5, a statewide law classifying drivers for app-based ridehail and delivery services as employees, not contractors, entitling them to standard benefits and protections (i.e. healthcare, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance). Proposition 22 would exempt drivers for ridehail companies and delivery services from AB5 and classify them as independent contractors. The measure would also include limited benefits for gig workers, including a wage floor, healthcare subsidies, and occupational insurance in lieu of workers compensation. These benefits, however, are contingent on specific conditions including a driver’s “engaged driving time” (the time between accepting and completing a ride or delivery request).

  1. Arkansas Issue 1 – Highway and Road Sales Tax

In 2012, Arkansas voters passed a 0.5 percent sales tax dedicated to state and local transportation funding. This tax is set to expire in 2023, and Issue 1 would make the tax permanent. If passed, the measure is expected to generate $294 million in annual revenue, of which 70 percent would be directed to state highways, and 15 percent each for county and city transportation.

  1. Charlotte, NC Transportation and Neighborhood Bonds

Charlotte has referred three general obligation bonds to voters, totaling $197 million in new investments for housing, transportation, and other neighborhood improvements. The largest of the three bonds is a $103 million transportation bond, which will fund several projects including traffic signal improvements, bridge replacement, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and enhancements to improve access to the LYNX Blue Line. A smaller $45 million neighborhood improvement bond would also fund sidewalk, street, and bike lane improvements in select neighborhoods.

  1. Seattle Proposition 1 – Transit Sales Tax Renewal

Proposition 1 in Seattle would replace an expiring sales tax currently funding the Seattle Transportation Benefit District with a 0.15 percent sales tax (a net increase of 0.5 percent). The measure would raise around $42 million annually to fund bus service, youth and low income fares, COVID-19 recovery, and other capital improvements along bus routes.

Community Disputes 

Some of the measures on the ballot this year are the byproduct of local transportation-related disputes affecting land development and property rights.

  1. Orange County, FL Forest Land Conservation Measure

A charter amendment measure in Orange County, Florida would prohibit commissioners from altering or modifying existing restrictions on development of the Split Oak Forest, a nearly 2,000 acre conservation area spanning Osceola and Orange counties southeast of Orlando. This measure was a response to both counties’ commissioners approving a new toll road extension serving newly developed subdivisions near the forest, which would impact 160 acres of Split Oak. Osceola County unsuccessfully sued to have the measure taken off the ballot. Given both counties’ approval of the toll road and jurisdiction over the forest, further litigation is expected if the measure passes.

  1. Bellaire, Texas Sidewalk Battles

Voters in Bellaire, Texas (southwest of Houston) will weigh in on three measures that would set restrictions and regulations on new sidewalk construction. Sidewalk construction has been a controversial issue in Bellaire for decades. Sidewalks were not installed in many areas of the city when Bellaire was developed post-World War II, and the municipality has attempted to build out a fully connected sidewalk network through several voter backed bonds. However, pushback from several property owners affected by the implementation of the 2016 sidewalk bond led the city council to pause new sidewalk construction in 2018. This controversy culminated in a successful effort to place three sidewalk-related measures on the November ballot:

  • Proposition A would require six months of notice prior to any council decision to build a new sidewalk. The notice must include sidewalk project schematics and a third-party hydrological study.
  • Proposition B would prohibit sidewalk construction on a residential block without the written approval of at least 50 percent of the block’s property owners at least three months prior to construction.
  • Proposition C would not allow new sidewalk construction unless the city eliminates the impact of sidewalk construction materials on water discharge and runoff.

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