The Case for Cooperation

Working together leads to a greater good

Back Commentary May 1, 2013 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

For as long as I can remember, I have been preaching the doctrine of regional cooperation. And, I think we have made some important steps in that direction.

Yet many of our local leaders still are reluctant to combine efforts with their counterparts in other cities and counties, too often viewing collaboration as some diminishment of their authority.

Now, we have a noteworthy example of just such cooperation — and what it can achieve — in this spring’s decision to move forward on the long-debated Capital Southeast Connector. The 35-mile expressway will link El Dorado County, Folsom, Rancho Cordova and Elk Grove, then connect Highway 99 to Interstate 5 in south Sacramento County.

The decision to approve a financing plan and design guidelines came from a joint powers authority made up of representatives from five political entities. Each government agreed to cede some of its individual power to the authority and to stick together through years of debate, including environmental lawsuits that could have derailed plans.

By staying focused on regional benefits, authority officials hammered out an agreement with critics, most notably the Environmental Council of Sacramento.  Months of negotiation led to a final compromise that seemed to please just about everyone. In fact, ECOS made a rare statement of support for the joint powers authority, saying it was one of the few examples of a local agency making a serious effort to mitigate the growth-inducing aspects of a project.

The new highway will be designed so that connecting roads will serve only areas that are currently designated for development. In addition, the joint powers agency will spend $15 million in set-aside transportation tax revenue to buy either land or easements to preserve open space, as well as contributing $300,000 in seed money toward a regional conservation plan. Funding for the estimated $500 million project will come from a number of sources, including an existing local transportation sales tax and state and federal transportation funds.

The end result is a big step forward in building a critical piece of our region’s transportation network.
Many large cities have “beltway” freeway loops that allow traffic to flow smoothly around congested downtowns. Sacramento does not.  It has only one stretch of beltway, from McClellan to West Sacramento northwest of downtown. The new connector would at least fill in one more segment of the circle, southeast of the urban core.

Yes, there are some environmental costs in the form of additional development and some loss of natural habitat and agricultural lands. But there are also environmental costs associated with not building the expressway.

Growth will occur in this part of our region whether the road is improved or not. Without it, drivers will spend more time and fuel by idling at congested intersections. More vehicles will waste energy and further pollute the air by driving the long way around, using highways 99 and 50.
The southeast connector also would bring a host of economic benefits.

California State University Sacramento business school dean Sanjay Varshney estimates the project could add $2.5 billion in economic output to the region through 2035.

To me, this is undoubtedly a win-win situation, one that could not have happened without the vision and cooperation of the five communities involved. Kudos to them and to their representatives on the joint powers agency. Now, let’s hope their example encourages all of us to build greater cooperation across our political boundaries.