Acknowledging that traffic woes impact nearly everyone in San Mateo County, the Board of Supervisors is moving ahead with a process that could result in a November 2018 ballot measure asking voters to approve another half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.
The supervisors voted Aug. 8 to contribute $350,000 to an effort to get the public involved in deciding what transportation projects such a tax could finance.
A decision to put the tax on the ballot wouldn't have to be finalized until August 2018, and would need the approval of both the Board of Supervisors and the board of the San Mateo County Transit District. The $350,000 in outreach funding is expected to be matched by SamTrans.
"Traffic is the worst it has ever been," Transit District head Jim Hartnett told the supervisors. " We all experience it. The public is looking to us for solutions."
Erica Walters of TBWB Strategies, one of the consultants who will work on the outreach effort, said the work will start almost immediately with a website and mailings, with both asking the public for ideas on easing the county's transportation woes.
"I don't think it's too early to start engaging people in the process," she said. "Nobody needs to be told traffic is a problem."
Speakers at the meeting seemed to agree. Roseanne Foust of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association said she has "never seen more of an interest" among private sector employers in doing something about transportation problems.
Emily Loper of the Bay Area Council, which represents more than 300 employers, said that transportation is its members' No. 1 concern. Many of its members favor "treating transportation like an emergency," she said.
At least one speaker warned that it might not be easy to get voter approval for a new tax. "I think you're dreaming if you think another tax increase is going to pass," Janet Davis said.
Don Horsley, president of the Board of Supervisors, said all of the attention should not go to major projects. "It's not only the big projects, but all the little ones, too," he said.
Supervisor Dave Pine said it would be important to prioritize projects that could be put in place quickly. "We ought to be able to do something really soon on the 101," he said. "Can we get some express buses there right away?"
Other projects, such as grade separations at the rail tracks, will take longer. "We could some day see high-speed rail," Mr. Pine said. "I don't know if we will, but we could." Local residents, he said, will have "torches in their hands" when they can't get across the rail tracks.
Mr. Pine advocated involving the corporate community. "The Facebook example with the funding of the Dumbarton study was a great precedent," he said. "I'd like to see that Facebook example multiplied."
Facebook paid $1 million for a study of the Dumbarton transportation corridor.
Because the tax would push four cities in San Mateo County above the limit on local sales taxes set by state law, the tax measure couldn't go on the ballot without approval of a bill currently before the state Legislature.
• Earlier story: Another sales tax hike proposed, and voters seem to like it.