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More Mass Transit Is a Public Health Measure : Commuter deliverance via 3 key June ballot measures

Alice Livingston lives in Rancho Cordova and works in Sacramento, a commute that most Southern Californians would consider a piece of cake by car. But she gets to the office on what used to be called a trolley and now goes by the name of light rail. It is, she says, smooth, comfortable, better than driving and, unlike a bus, doesn’t smell bad.

Not so coincidentally, Alice is also a secretary at the Assembly Transportation Committee, an early sponsor of Proposition 111 on the June 5 ballot. In a sense, what her committee wants to do is make it possible for other commuters in California to share the joys of rail. Proposition 111 would set the stage for $3-billion worth of rail-bond issues as part of an overall $18.5- billion package of projects to break up traffic jams and whittle down commuting time. A separate proposition, 108, would provide the first $1-billion installment of rail money. Still another initiative, Proposition 116, sponsored by the Planning and Conservation League, would bring the total rail package to $5 billion if voters approve. This they must do if California is to close out this century with cleaner air and freeways that move traffic rather than block it. Propositions 111, 108 and 116 thus form a package that deserves approval.

The bond funds would be on top of the new money for highways and other transportation projects to be funded by raising the state gasoline tax over five years from the present 9 cents a gallon to 14 cents, an increase that would cost the average California driver $60 a year.

Proposition 108 is the Passenger Rail and Clean Air Bond Act, but the reference to smog is more than an eye-catching gimmick. A commuter driving alone to work leaves a trail of hydrocarbons--a key ingredient of smog--something like eight times as thick as a commuter who gets to work with a combination of bus and rail. That difference can be crucial to Southern Californians who are locked in a desperate battle for cleaner air.

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The bond issue propositions both would support projects ranging from hundreds of millions of dollars worth of improvements in existing railroad passenger service to light-rail systems to a $30-million item for a worthy alternative, water-borne ferry service.

The railroad projects would include $79 million worth of improvements in service between Orange County and fast-growing San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Other projects would focus on the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor, the link between San Bernardino and Los Angeles and rail through the Central Valley between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The two propositions complement one another, with Proposition 116 designating 22 specific projects around the state and Proposition 108 providing general guidance for future projects that the Legislature and governor would designate and finance.

More than $1 billion of the bond issue would go to railroad improvements, with the rest divided among old and new light-rail systems and Metro Rail in Los Angeles.

California’s economic future can be only as bright as the mobility of its people. To prosper, the state must be able to move goods in and out of its ports and people in and out of its cities. Proposition 111 and its companion initiatives, 108 and 116, are crucial contributions to that future.

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