Local government officials are looking for new solutions to fund road and transportation improvements after Santa Barbara County residents opted not to renew Measure D last fall.

Due to expire in 2010, the measure, a sales tax, has generated $270 million in funds to improve public transit and highway repairs since it was approved in 1989. Without the sales tax, the county must find another way to fund road repairs and development, such as a commuter rail from Ventura to Goleta and expanding U.S. Highway 101.

An amendment to Measure D, which could have extended the tax until 2040, was defeated on the ballot last November after it failed to receive the two-thirds vote required for approval. Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he is worried about the possible deficit in transportation funding, and said he is looking for alternative solutions.

“Currently, Measure D is a one-half cent sales tax, half of which goes to road maintenance, some to subsidize buses and bike lanes,” Firestone said. “When that expires, there will be a 40 million dollar hole in the county budget. That would be a problem for all of us.”

Although the county needs the funds provided by Measure D, Firestone said he thinks the public is reluctant to pass what looks like a new tax. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has discussed the possibility of adding a gasoline tax to Measure D, similar to the one approved statewide in the elections last November, to provide additional transportation funds, Firestone said.

“There was a proposition to guarantee a portion of state gas tax to go to energy development, and that passed [in the November statewide elections],” Firestone said. “I think that signals support for the idea. The question is how the roads should be funded – and most people think it should be through a gasoline tax.”

If Measure D sunsets in three years without a replacement program, roads throughout the county will suffer, said Gregg Hart, Public Information/Government Affairs Coordinator for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. Half of all road funding in the county comes directly from Measure D, he said.

“The measure only needed 54 percent to pass back in 1989. We actually got 54 percent last November, but now the legislation needs 66.6 percent of voters to pass,” Hart said. “We just need to put together a package that will appeal to all voters.”

Despite the countywide failure of Measure D last fall, Isla Vista and UCSB voters passed the legislation with over 80 percent approval. Firestone said the tremendous success of measure in I.V. is partially owed to students such as fourth-year-global studies major Kelly Burns, who had been active in promoting Measure D on campus and throughout the county.

“We had a huge campaign in Isla Vista,” Burns said. “The point is that we all need better public transportation. It is an environmental issue, a social issue and an economic issue. This measure has to pass.”

Although the measure enjoys overwhelming support in the south county, resistance in the north is frustrating legislative efforts, Firestone said.

Firestone said as soon as a new measure is created, and it receives a broad show of support, he will push to negotiate a solution.

“This is what we’ve been doing, and if we stop doing it the roads will fall apart,” Firestone said. “I don’t think that’s a hard sell.”