COLAB’s update on county road infrastructure

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By Kay Day Pricola

Over the next several months, COLAB will provide a series of articles on issues its membership believes is important to the economic viability of Imperial Valley. We thank the Desert Review for its support and interest in publishing these articles. Please note that our articles do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Desert Review, its owners or staff. The opinions expressed are that of the COLAB board.

Several years ago, the Coalition of Labor, Agricultural and Business (COLAB) of Imperial County opposed Measure D, a “self-help” sales tax of ½ cent on all retail sales within imperial County with the proceeds earmarked for transportation improvements.

COLAB’s concern was that the funding would not be effectively used. Measure D passed in 2008, and we all now pay that ½ cent tax on any retail taxable goods purchased in Imperial County. In some ways, it has been a good source of income for the county, in particular as our traffic population swells with the inclusion of individuals who live across the border – both in Mexico and Arizona – and work in the county.

The sales tax created by Measure D offers a way to capture funds to help address the additional wear and tear on roads generated by those who work here, but may not reside in the county. While these workers do not pay a fee to use our roads, they do pay the sales tax on goods purchased here. We are advised that 48% of Imperial County’s sales tax comes from residents in Mexicali.

On April 6, California state legislators, with the support of Governor Jerry Brown, imposed a mammoth tax increase, which will raise an estimated $50 billion over the next 10 years to be used for transportation infrastructure improvements and maintenance. Specifically, gas taxes will rise 12 cents per gallon. Diesel fuel would be impacted in two ways: an increase in the diesel excise tax by 20 cents a gallon, and an increase of the diesel sales tax to 5.75 percent.

COLAB has been quite vocal on the poor conditions of Imperial County roads. The response by those responsible has been that the county lacks enough funding to perform the necessary improvements, and to even maintain the road system.

So now the region — that is, the county and the incorporated cities — is projected to receive approximately $16 million a year for road infrastructure with the majority of it accrued to the county due to its extensive network of roads. This, coupled with Measure D money, will still be insufficient to repair all the roads, especially in the first several years.

At the projected cost of $1 million per mile for improvements to paved roads, and a network of 2,555 miles of roads, of which 1,349 miles are paved and 1,206 miles are unpaved, the money will not go far. However, it will be a start, and must be used wisely.

The concern, of course, was and will continue to be the proper and efficient use of the funding. The new Imperial County Director of Public Works, John Gay, has listened to our concerns, as has the Board of Supervisors. They, however, have not until now had the funding to make a meaningful difference. This funding will change that.

COLAB has asked for and will continue to seek greater public input as to which roads are on the list for improvement and their priority. You drive the roads – daily – and you know which ones in your area are the worst. COLAB will continue to seek accountability for the use of the funds. While we will be the very squeaky wheel, we will do so based on the needs of the users. We welcome your input. Contact us at Kay@COLABIMPERIAL.com