20090115

Fourth Bore No More

This morning the San Francisco Chronicle reports that funding has been halted for the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. Though, it is unfortunate California cannot start a massive public infrastructure project at the precise time when it both would get better deals on construction costs and our economy could use a boost, this is a terrible project. Anyone who wants to understand why California has such a huge budget problem, while having relatively high taxes and still continuing to educate its children trailers and postpone the repair of its crumbling infrastructure, need look no further than this project.

Leaving the environmental considerations aside (which we shouldn't), this project is just completely unnecessary. At nearly half a billion dollars, it is expensive in and of itself. But the larger problem is that a fourth bore would exacerbate the region's suburban sprawl, which is in itself a hugely inefficient enterprise, requiring massive expenditures on the duplication of infrastructure. If California ever wants to get its financial house in order, it will have to rethink the amount and focus of the money it spends on transport and infrastructure. Here's hoping that we begin that process during the upcoming economic downturn, and before the fourth bore is ever built.

3 comments:

Becks said...

I couldn't be much happier that the 4th bore isn't being built, well for now at least. I also agree that California spends way too much funding on infrastructures projects that are not needed and bad for the environment.

But I can't agree with this claim: "Anyone who wants to understand why California has such a huge budget problem, while having relatively high taxes and still continuing to educate its children trailers and postpone the repair of its crumbling infrastructure, need look no further than this project."

There are clearly expenses that could be cut in the budget, and honestly, the legislature has already cut almost everything superfluous in the budget passed last year. But expenses aren't the real problem. California has a revenue problem that must be fixed. We need to revise Prop 13 and get rid of the 2/3 vote rule on the budget and tax increases. Until we do that, the budget crisis will not be solved.

Raymond Johnson said...

Prop 13 certainly needs reform and the 2/3rd vote rule should be repealed on principle. And I was overstating the case a bit for affect in the paragraph you cite.

But $420 million is a lot of money, it buys you a lot of school building buildings, water treatment plants, and levees. And though the Fourth Bore is a pretty massive public works project, it also is an indicative one.

California spends massive amounts of money on unnecessary projects such as this which further suburban sprawl, then requiring yet more infrastructure building to service. It is a vicious cycle that must be broken.

artemis said...

Agreed that the Fourth Bore project has to go---and excited to see it stopped (at least for now). But I did just want to correct the misperception that California has high taxes. We don't---we just have taxes that are allocated very differently than in other states. The "effective" tax rate (when you look comprehensively at taxes on sales, income, property, etc. in a given state) was around 11.5 percent in the last calculation I could find ('07)---that's compared to a national average of around 11 percent. It still puts us above the mean, but not by very much---and our average income is also above the mean. The bigger issue is looking at where and what we tax, and whether those taxes are regressive or not. We have one of the country's highest state sales taxes, for instance, even before you add in local sales taxes. That's compensating for low property taxes. And Prop 13 means that a lot of local funding from property taxes comes not from a percentage of property value, but from a flat per-household fee for services and amenities, which has a lot of equity issues. Just food for thought...