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It's Official: State's Roads are a Mess

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Drivers in California’s major urban areas spend $600 to $756 more per year to operate their vehicles because of the potholes, deficient roadways and poor pavement in the state’s urban communities, according to a new report from TRIP, a national transportation research group.

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TRIP found freeways and arterial streets in California urban areas give motorists some of the roughest rides in the nation. San Jose tops the list with 64% of its major roadways rated in poor condition, and Los Angeles ranks second, with 63% of major roadways rated poor.

Other California cities on the national Top 10 list are San Francisco-Oakland (58%), Concord (58%), San Diego (50%) and the Indio-Palm Springs area (47%).

“Roads are battered and shattered in every urban area of California, and they are costing the state’s motorists hundreds of dollars a year at a time when they can ill afford it,” says Transportation California Executive Director Bert Sandman. “Despite the best efforts of Caltrans and local transportation agencies, it’s difficult to keep up with maintenance and rehabilitation, much less accommodate relentless traffic and population growth given tight federal, state and local funding.”

Eight of California’s largest cities (with populations of 500,000 or more) rank among the Top 20 nationally, and seven more urban areas (with populations of 250,000 to 500,000) rank among the Top 20 secondary cities with poorest pavement ratings, according to the report, “Hold the Wheel Steady: America’s Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make Our Roads Smoother.”

In California, 17 of the 19 largest urban areas exceed the national average of 24% of roadways rated poor. More than half the pavement on major roadways is rated poor in seven California metro areas: San Jose, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Antioch, Santa Rosa, Concord and San Diego.

The TRIP report documents that poor roads create higher vehicle operating costs -- in addition to the costs associated with normal wear and tear of the vehicle. The national average for driving on roads that have pavements in poor condition is $402 a year. But it’s generally more expensive in California: More than $500 annually in most of the state’s urban areas and more than $700 in San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland, the three highest in the nation.

“All too often, we see new evidence of the sorry condition of California’s infrastructure,” Sandman says. “As we have seen over and over, the consequences of failing to maintain our infrastructure can be deadly. Much of our infrastructure dates back to the post-World War II boom and even before. It is simply wearing out, and we are failing to invest in essential upkeep.”

TRIP reports that pavement conditions are likely to worsen under current funding levels.

“Transportation funding isn’t keeping pace with the rate of roadway deterioration,” Sandman says. “The gasoline tax was raised 20 years ago, and inflation has eroded its purchasing power. Just to adjust for inflation, the gas tax would have to be eight-cents higher – and that doesn’t include the additional cost of maintaining an aging transportation system.”

Significant increases in travel in the years ahead will put additional stress on roads, further increasing the cost to improve and maintain them. TRIP notes that overall vehicle travel increased by 29% from 1990 to 2008, and travel by large commercial trucks increased by 49% in the same time period. By 2030, vehicle travel is expected to increase 35%, and heavy truck travel is anticipated to grow by 64%, according to TRIP.

“California is falling almost $4 billion a year short in its investment in basic safety improvements and maintenance on our streets and highways,” Sandman says. “Neglecting our highways not only undermines California’s economy, it also affects the quality of life and the health and safety of every Californian. It is time we stop being penny foolish and dollar stupid.”
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