In summary

Investing in active transportation projects will create millions of good-paying middle-class jobs and stimulate our economic recovery.

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By Bob Alvarado, Special to CalMatters

Bob Alvarado is executive officer of the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, Balvarado@nccrc.org.

President Joe Biden recently released an audacious plan to invest $2 trillion in our nation’s infrastructure, including significant funding to invest in the roads, bridges, freeways and highways that will improve mobility and make the traveling public safer. 

Investing in our nation’s infrastructure is a proven way to create and sustain millions of good-paying middle-class jobs and stimulate our economic recovery.

California could receive tens of billions of dollars in funding for transportation and transit, clean energy, schools, housing, broadband and a host of other projects that will help us improve our state’s infrastructure while – importantly – addressing climate change.

Here at home, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature should parlay any federal infrastructure funding and further reduce the impacts of climate change by using our state’s massive $14.3 billion budget surplus to invest in a one-time boost to the state’s Active Transportation Program.

The Active Transportation Program was created in 2013 to encourage active modes of transportation, such as walking and biking. The ATP provides grant funding to local, regional, federal and state agencies as well as nonprofits for programs that will increase the proportion of trips accomplished by biking and walking, enhance the safety and mobility for non-motorized users, and advance active transportation efforts of regional agencies to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.

You may ask why a union that represents construction workers is pushing more investment in active transportation, which presumably creates fewer construction jobs than traditional infrastructure projects. For starters, active transportation projects do create jobs – expanding sidewalks and bike lanes require carpenters and many other skilled trades union workers.

But more importantly, our members are predominantly people of color from communities disproportionately besieged by air pollution, climate change, obesity and the resulting harmful health impacts. Investing in safer and more accessible ways for kids to walk or bike to school, and for parents and grandparents to walk or bike to work, shopping and restaurants is a wise investment in the health of our people and our communities.

We’ve also seen a worrying increase in pedestrian injuries since the start of the pandemic. Increased investment in Active Transportation Program projects will ultimately help save lives.

That’s not to say we believe investments in active transportation programs should erode funding for traditional roads, transit, freeways, bridges and overpasses. Our state must ensure adequate funding for all forms of transportation infrastructure.

With a massive state budget surplus, a significant investment in active transportation this year seems prudent. The 2021 Active Transportation Program has an annual capacity of $445 million. The California Transportation Commission receives funding requests from hundreds of government agencies – cities, counties, schools, metropolitan planning agencies and state agencies. In this current budget cycle, there were more than 450 Active Transportation Program project applicants with a combined request of more than $2.3 billion. That’s more than five times the current funding capacity.

All of the California Transportation Commission-approved projects will go to benefit disadvantaged communities, but many worthy projects will go unfunded due to the lack of funding. A one-time state budget boost of $2 billion will help ensure hundreds of additional worthwhile projects get funded, furthering investments in the health of our most disadvantaged communities and bolstering our efforts to address climate change.

As our state emerges from the devastation of the pandemic, a massive investment in infrastructure will help create and sustain tens of thousands of California jobs, while kick-starting our economy into recovery. A one-time investment in the Active Transportation Program will ensure many of those jobs are focused on projects that reduce the impacts of climate change and resulting health disparities in our most disadvantaged communities.

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