The votes are in... and transit comes out a winner

I'll admit it — I had my doubts. Sure, transit ridership has soared this year. Sure, Americans seem to be seeking alternatives to automobile and air travel. But in these particularly tough economic times, would people actually vote in favor of financing those new and/or expanded transit options?

Turns out, they would. The Center for Transportation Excellence tracked the transit ballot initiatives — all 32 of them — and when the site was updated mid-Wednesday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that of the 11 measures that had transit-rail implications, all but three were approved (and one of those — a Santa Clara Valley sales tax increase that would help fund a BART extension to the Silicon Valley — still was too close to call as of Nov. 6).

Among the "yeas": a half-cent sales tax in Los Angeles County that will provide $40 billion over 30 years for transit and road projects; a sales tax increase in the Seattle region to fund $17.8 billion worth of transit projects over the next 20 years; and a $10 billion statewide bond measure in California to provide initial financing for a high-speed rail system (my personal favorite ... more on that next week).

Maybe the insanely high gas prices earlier this year brought more attention to the need for transit alternatives. Maybe more voters are seeing transit as a solution to climate change. They might even have become more aware that investing in transit means investing in our economy. Whatever the reason, it's encouraging to see that, at a time when many people are pinching pennies and analyzing every dollar they spend, transit is a priority. I'm sure the significance isn't lost on transit officials. Let's hope it's not lost on members of Congress, either, as they begin discussions next year about a new surface transportation authorization bill.