Gas Tax Money Used to Reduce Traffic Lanes, Stirring Debate in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO -- The addition of bike lanes on Sacramento streets that take away a lane used by vehicle traffic is not popular among many drivers.

It has been made worse by the fact that the changes are financed by the recent increase in the gas tax.

Two years after the gas tax was raised, some complain that roads haven’t improved.

"The facts are they lied to us because they said they were going to do something and they didn’t," said motorist and construction worker Chad Umbay.

Umbay drives down J Street almost every day, which was reduced from three lanes to two lanes to accommodate a curbside bike lane using gas tax money.

"That shouldn't be the priority. The priority should be our drive to work first because we are working, we are the taxpayers," he said.

Umbay’s views are echoed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which fought the gas tax bill and backed a campaign to repeal it, to no avail.

"Far from repairing and maintaining roads, we’re actually losing capacity as a result of the gas tax passing," said Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Legislative Director David Wolfe.

But the fact is that the gas tax bill made provisions for both mass transit and road safety improvements. In fact, the city of Sacramento earmarked the bike lane project for gas tax money early on.

Reducing lanes, also called a road diet, slows traffic and makes it safer for everyone on the street.

“It was hard for pedestrians to cross the street and the business community of all the merchants that work along there, they kept on telling the city, 'We want our own customers to be able to cross the street,'" said Jennifer Donlon Wyant, the city's program specialist for the Public Works Department's Transportation Division.

You won’t get any arguments from bicyclists.

"I do think it’s a good idea, especially for Sacramento," said bicyclist Bill Carruthers.

Carruthers echoes bicycle organizations that feel that road safety was always a part of the gas tax bill.

"Safety for the streets includes everybody, including pedestrians, people walking across the crosswalks," he told FOX40. "If they have to slow down a little bit then so what? It's not going to hurt them. They’ll get to their destination safely and on time."

Plenty of drivers have complained about the traffic caused by reducing the number of lanes but others don’t see a problem with the way the money was spent.

"I think it was a good little maneuver," said midtown worker Jeff Juarez.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association acknowledges that the money is not being spent illegally and that road safety is important but still believes the gas tax should favor motorists.

"We need to remember that the majority of the state still gets around by using cars," Wolfe said.

Of the $5 billion per year raised by the gas tax bill, a small percentage, or $100 million, goes toward pedestrian and bicycle improvements. Still, with gas prices so high, there’s a lot of attention on where that money is going.

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