Ventura Co. sees sales tax hike as fix for transportation woes

Ventura is the only Southern California county that does not have a sales tax to raise money for improving streets, highways and public transit. Local officials hope to change that in 2016. Encouraged by recent opinion polling, they are exploring a ballot measure that would impose a small sales tax that could raise an additional $1 billion to $2 billion for transportation projects. Should the proposal win the required two-thirds majority, priority projects include widening the 101 Freeway at an estimated cost of $800 million to $900 million, and widening State Route 118, better known as the Ronald Reagan Freeway, at an estimated cost of $150 million.

Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, says the widenings are necessary because the amount of delay experienced by motorists annually is projected to increase dramatically by 2035, including a 50% jump on the 101, according to a transportation commission study. Caltrans figures show that motorists now average up to 190,000 trips per day on the busiest sections of the 101 in Ventura County and as many as 141,000 daily trips on parts of the 118.

Part of the problem is that Ventura cannot get as much in matching state and federal funds as counties with transportation sales taxes. “Transportation funding is a three-legged stool: state, federal and local. If you are a county and show up with your share of funding, you are at a competitive advantage over those that don’t,” said Keith Dunn of the Self-Help Counties Coalition, which represents 20 of the 58 counties in the state that have transportation sales taxes. In Southern California, they include Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. All have half-cent sales taxes, which have been used to raise billions of dollars annually for transportation projects.

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