Infrastructure Wins on Election Night 2017


On November 7, voters across the country approved infrastructure investment ballot measures. In Maine, a resounding 72% of residents across the state voted yes on Question 3, allowing the issuance of $105 million in bonds for transportation projects around the state. $80 million will be provided to state highways and bridges, $20 million for multimodal freight facilities, equipment, and property acquisition, and $5 million for a competitive grant program to upgrade culverts at stream crossings. The bonds also qualify as matching funds when the state seeks federal support.

Local ballot measures fared well too. In Colorado, 73% of Denver voters approved $431 million in bonds for the city’s road-repair backlog.  Georgians in Athens-Clarke and DeKalb counties were asked whether to increase sales and use taxes by 1% for transportation projects. In Athens-Clarke, the measure was approved 74%-26%. In DeKalb County, 70% of voters chose to increase taxes to improve their area’s transportation infrastructure.

In Lawrence, Kansas voters approved the extension of two expiring sales taxes, .2% for mass transit and .3% for roads, stormwater facilities, and bike and sidewalk infrastructure. Both measures passed, by 70% and 73%, respectively. Residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan voted to extend an expiring 1.47-mill tax (a levy on the assessed value of a property), to support the transit agency’s general operations. Ohio results, meanwhile, were a mixed bag. Allen County rejected a .025% sales tax to support the area’s regional transit authority, but Mahoning County approved the extension of an expiring .25 sales tax for its transit authority.

Also notable was the outcome of a Kansas City, Missouri ballot measure, in which voters opted to spend $1 billion to redesign the Kansas City International Airport. The design is aimed at increasing airport efficiency and improving security, and the modernization will be paid for by fees on airlines and other revenue, including parking. Opponents of the ballot measure were skeptical of the revenue structure, arguing that tax payers were likely to eventually foot the bill, but voters chose overwhelming to support the plan by a 3 to 1 margin.

This year’s successful ballot measures reflect a larger trend. Voters tend to favor of increasing investment in infrastructure and support candidates that do the same. According to analysis by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), 69% of the 280 transportation funding ballot measures up for vote were approved in 2016, totaling $201 billion for state and local transportation projects. Meanwhile, between 2013 and 2016, 91% of legislators who supported legislation to increase the state gas tax were reelected, according to separate analysis from ARTBA.

ASCE identified a $2 trillion infrastructure investment gap in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. To close that gap, we must increase investment from all levels of government, including state and local governments. In 2017, Americans once again demonstrated that they are willing to pay more to improve the infrastructure in their communities and beyond.

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