The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Friday, June 13, 2003


Home of More Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal continues our coverage of the CenterLine project in Orange County, CA, with more "background" on state transit financing.

If the Fearless Fudgemeister has hacked into your computer, it'll probably CRASH as you read the following!!!

A curious "link" tied the success or failure of the transit bonds (Prop. 108) to the gas-tax hike (Prop. 111). If voters had approved the former but not the latter, the bonds authorized could not be sold. The political class obviously feared, as pre-election polling revealed, that a majority of voters did not favor freeway expansion. For example, a May 1990 poll in Sacramento County found that 52 percent of respondents favored emphasizing transit over highways, 33 percent favored an equal emphasis -- and only 10 percent favored an emphasis on highways. That means that 85 percent supported an "equal or greater" emphasis on transit. Results such as this made Governor Deukmejian and other politicians very nervous about what might happen if voters could act separately on transiit and highway financing.

In fact, the "official" campaign for Prop. 108 and 111 emphasized TRANSIT, because pre-election surveys found that an emphasis on highways might lead to rejection!!!

(You won't read THAT on "the public purpose" anytime soon . . .)

For Prop. 116, PCL and TRAC raised $500,000 for a petition drive -- and managed to gather nearly 700,000 signatures. Supporters then raised $600,000 for a campaign for approval. Although supported by many politicians and transit operators, Prop. 116 was a "grass-roots" project.

Governor Deukmejian and other state political leaders were far more interested in winning approval for Prop. 111 than for Prop. 108. Deukmejian and legislative leaders saw Prop. 116 as competition. The "official" transit bond issue (Prop. 108) was an attempt to dissuade PCL and TRAC from placing Prop. 116 on the ballot by petition -- which costs big bucks in California owing to the state's large population. But Deukmejian insisted on the "link" between the transit bonds and the gas tax, and Prop. 116 backers proceeded with their petition drive.

The campaign for the gas-ax hike was beset by controversy; meanwhile, the rail bond proposals attracted no organized opposition. Backers of Prop. 108 and 111 agreed with backers of Prop. 116 to support each other's proposals. Deukmejian eventually broke his agreement by announcing opposition to Prop. 116 four days before the election. Meanwhile, a funding shortage threatened to shut down the state highway-building program, forcing Caltrans to become a "maintenance and safety operation." A first round of road project delays was announced early in 1990. (Caltrans even asked the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission for $40 million, without specifying whether it wanted a grant or a loan!)


(with apologies to the Moody Blues; complete lyrics here; this website is dedicated to "best all-time breakup songs and breakup song lyrics.")

The state gas-tax and rail bond measures were not the only transportation-financing measures on the June 5, 1990 ballot, but they received the most attention.

Proposition 108, the "official" rail bond proposal, 56 percent "yes."
Proposition 111, the "official" gas-tax increase proposal, 52 percent "yes."
Proposition 116, the rail bond initiative, 53 percent "yes."

Remarkably, voters in the most auto-oriented California counties -- Orange and Santa Clara -- REJECTED the gas-tax hike by narrow "no" margins. But voters in other large but less auto-oriented counties APPROVED by substnatial "yes" margins. Hmmm (the obvious explanation: the campaign emphasizing transit).

The pace of this "revolution" slackened after 1990, owing in part to the state's long post-Cold War recession. Voters rejected the "subsequent" $1 billion rail bond installments in 1992 and 1994. On the other hand, freeway expansion gradually wound down. Governor Gray Davis announced in 2001, up on opening the first six-mile section of a Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) extension, that it would be the "the last freeway built in California" because the state had run out of money and land for new freeways. The New York Times headline read, "California Governor Sees an End to Freeway Building" (August 21, 2001; you'll have to pay to see the original story on the New York Times website,, text of the article is here, courtesy the "Public Transit Interest Index Page" here ). A New York Times editorial on August 22, 2001 was titled, "The Last Freeway." Despite the howls from the pro-highway camp, most everyone agrees that the large-scale freeway building is a thing of the past. (For the text of a 2002 speech by a disgruntled highway-phile to the California Asphalt and Pavement Association, see here .)

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