Voters Turn to Ballot Measures to Improve Infrastructure

By Cheyenne Bridgewater, a Summer 2016 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Across the country, local communities are increasingly turning to ballot measures to improve the infrastructure that’s essential to their ability to walk, bike, or use public transit to connect them to jobs, housing, health care, and education.

Earlier this month, 74 percent of voters in Northfield, Ill., supported a proposal to issue $7.5 million in bonds to improve roads, sidewalks, and storm sewers. This vote helps Northfield move forward with its 10-year infrastructure improvement plan, which addresses local roads, storm sewers, life safety systems, streetscape, and pedestrian connectivity – ensuring that pedestrians are able to travel from one place to another unencumbered by any issue of undeveloped or outdated infrastructure.

On the West Coast, San Diego has battled its fair share of infrastructure woes, including potholes, broken water mains, and crumbling bridges. San Diego has finally responded to residents’ concerns with Prop H, which will be up for vote in June. The measure would raise $4 billion over the next 25 years to tackle the city’s infrastructure problems. Instead of imposing new taxes or tax hikes, San Diego has proposed tapping into the city’s current revenue sources such as sales tax proceeds, growth in general fund revenues, and pension cost savings.

In Indiana, Marion County’s City-County Council has agreed to include a question on funding for public transit on the November ballot. The referendum will allow local residents to vote on whether to use a 0.25 percent income tax increase to fund the Marion County Transit Plan and cover operational costs for three planned rapid-transit bus lines. According to advocates, the transit plan would provide more reliable transportation to work for low-income people and connect residents with 247,985 jobs within half a mile of a frequent transit route (compared with 140,057 jobs today), providing 45 percent of Indianapolis’ minority population with access to a frequent route (compared to just 14 percent today) by 2021.

The efforts of these three cities demonstrate how local citizens can use referendums to help improve the infrastructure of their communities. And these advocacy efforts offer a number benefits. Low-income residents can use local transit to find and secure employment. Additional routes allow people with disabilities and senior citizens to use transit more effectively for their transportation needs. And infrastructure improvement provides short- and long-term employment for local residents.