ELECTION ROUNDUP: Transit (Mostly) Wins

Voters approved bond measures in Houston and Maine, the first step in a tax increase in Cincinnati, and a new transportation agency in Denver.

Houston voters on Tuesday approved a $3.5 billion bond measure that will significantly expand transit services throughout the region.
Houston voters on Tuesday approved a $3.5 billion bond measure that will significantly expand transit services throughout the region.

It was a good night for transit in much of the country as voters overwhelmingly approved scores of transportation-related initiatives that were on the ballot on Tuesday.

The public will have to wait one more year to render its final judgment upon President Trump but those who went to the polls on Tuesday had an opportunity to weigh in on the future of mobility by approving tax hikes, billions of dollars in new transportation bonds, creating new offices to oversee transportation projects, and preserving funding mechanisms for mass transit.

There were 123 transportation-related ballot initiatives across the country and here’s a look at the most significant ones:

Maine: By a 3-to-1 margin, Pine Tree Staters signed off on a $105-million bond that would improve roads and transit in the state. Voters passed the statewide bond initiative 76 to 24 percent, with 121,412 casting ballots in favor of the new borrowing after 80 percent of precincts reported results. The majority of the funds, $85 million, will be spent on highway and bridge repairs while railroads, ports, and airports will receive $20 million, and the state will also receive $137 million in federal matching funds.

Cincinnati: Queen City voters took the first step in approving a new funding stream for transportation and infrastructure by passing Issue 22 which essentially swaps a city earnings tax for a countywide sales tax that would be approved next year. By a vote of 77 to 23 percent, voters chose to repeal a 0.3-percent city earnings tax that would go into effect if Hamilton County voters approve a 0.8-percent countywide sales tax in 2020. That tax could ultimately raise $130 million annually for transportation services in the county. Advocates were confident the public would embrace next year’s initiative. “After years of hard work, bus riders have been heard!” Better Bus Coalition president Cam Hardy said in a statement. “The success of Issue 22 puts us closer than ever to having the bus system we deserve, and we won’t stop advocating until we successfully pass a countywide levy.”

Houston: The nation’s fourth largest city took a Texas-sized step toward expanding transit Tuesday as a $3.5-billion bond referendum for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County was on track toward passage. With 99.6 percent of Harris County’s precincts reporting, the bond measure passed 68 to 32 percent thanks to strong support throughout much of the city’s downtown neighborhoods. Thanks to Magnolia City voters, the measure will fund a chunk of the transit authority’s long-term plans including an extension of the county’s green and purple rail lines to Hobby Airport, a bus rapid transit line from downtown to Bush Intercontinental Airport, 110 miles of commuter bus lanes, and new bus shelters and passenger information enhancements. Houston’s transportation advocates heralded the results.

“This votes represents transformation for our city and region and a desire for more connectivity with transit,” Transportation Advocacy Group Executive Director Andrea French told Streetsblog. “We understand that roads remain a tremendous asset and we know that public transportation will enhance our infrastructure and build on our economy.”

(Vote counting was delayed in the middle of the night. We will update.)

Denver: Looks like the Mile High City is getting a new Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. Mayor Michael Hancock proposed creating the new agency, which would manage the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the city’s transportation networks and take over responsibilities from the public works department. Voters largely agreed it was a good idea with 73 percent in favor and 27 against, according to preliminary results. Unfortunately, a statewide proposition that would retain excess revenue for transportation and education spending, which would otherwise be returned to taxpayers, was failing 56 to 44 percent with 73 percent of results reporting.

Washington State: It looks like a ballot measure to reduce the cost of car tabs and eliminate a sales tax on new cars — a ballot referendum pushed by the infamous Tim Eyman — has passed 55-45. The measure means hundreds of millions in lost revenue for Sound Transit.


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