In between state measures on the Nov. 2 election ballot to legalize marijuana, promote shrimp and require minors to get parental permission for abortions, are hundreds of millions of dollars of project finance requests and new initiatives that could end planned projects and change how engineers and contractors conduct their business.

With a presidential election at stake this year, ballot measures are up compared to 2002. There are a total of 163 facing voters on Nov. 2, says the National Conference of State Legislatures, "but nowhere near the high water mark of 1996," it adds.

With repeated delays in reauthorizing federal transportation spending, states are taking action to spur projects along. There are more than 40 transportation initiatives on state and local ballots for Nov. 2. While it is hard to predict voters’ appetite for approving either statewide or local bond or tax measures, the fact that there are so many underscores that transportation "is an important issue that needs to be addressed," says Matthew Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.


Although multibillion-dollar school and transportation bond measures that dominated recent California ballots are conspicuously absent this time, the industry is keeping tabs on several items that will "have a definite effect on transportation funding," says Thomas Holsman, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of California.

About $1 billion of funding is linked to Propositions 68 and 70, which cover agreements with Indian tribe gambling casinos. Under a complex deal between the tribes and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), the defeat of both measures would trigger a $1-billion contribution by tribes to replenish transportation funds diverted by the state to help close its budget gap.

Also at stake are six sales tax extensions and four new sales taxes that could raise up to $33 billion in nine counties, much of it dedicated to transportation. "We have to remain cautiously optimistic" about the measures’ prospects, in part because of wide demographic differences across the state, says Holsman.

A proposed tax extension in San Bernardino County, which has lost about $250 million of state transportation funding in recent years, would raise an estimated $6.1 billion between 2010 and 2040, the largest projected yield of any county sales tax on the ballot. Early reauthorization "gives us a level of certainty and the ability to do some of the planning now," says a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino Associated Governments.

The single largest construction program targeted on a California ballot is the $1.6-billion seismic upgrade of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. But, with budget issues soaring, Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill to delay until November 2006 a ballot measure that would have earmarked $10 billion for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other states envision similar, although less ambitious transportation projects.

Transportation Measures Dominate in Some States  
State Area affected Description of ballot initiative
Arizona Maricopa County Half-cent tax for $8.5 billion of transit, road work
California San Bernardino County Half-cent tax for $6.1 billion of transit, road work
Colorado Metro Denver $4.7-billion sought for suburban transit lines
Florida Statewide Would repeal requirement to build high-speed rail
Georgia Two counties "Special purpose" sales tax to fund road upgrades
Missouri Statewide Prevent state diversion of highway user fees
S. Carolina Charleston County Half-cent tax to raise $1.3 billion for projects, transit
Virginia Fairfax County $300 million of projects, including D.C. subway link
Washington Seattle Initiative 83 could ban permits for planned monorail
Source: American road and transportation builders association  

In Missouri, construction industry interests are lobbying for passage of Amendment 3, which would prevent the state from diverting fuel taxes and other highway user fees to general revenue. The highway department says it received only 55¢ of every...