Crumbling infrastructure is costly, dangerous

California motorists in a traffic jam. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Our transportation infrastructure is literally falling apart due to poor maintenance. Recently, because of deferred maintenance, a guard rail on an East Bay overpass fell onto I-880. The several tons of falling metal didn’t just hold up traffic, it also damaged cars and injured drivers.  Our crumbling roads are more than just a nuisance. They’re dangerous.

We have a $59 billion backlog of repairs for state highways, and a $78 billion backlog of repairs for local streets and roads. Statewide, 55 percent of local bridges require rehabilitation or replacement. Poor road conditions are costing California drivers $762 per year in extra vehicle maintenance costs.

Real reforms and new transportation revenues are the only solution that will truly address our huge backlog of maintenance.

Everyone, from the Governor to drivers across the state, agrees we need a solution to our road repair crisis. The more difficult question that has plagued the Legislature has been:  what are we going to do about it?

Several proposals to address our transportation infrastructure have been introduced, and there have been many thoughtful discussions about how we can come to an agreement that provides meaningful reforms and significant, long-term funding for our streets and roads. It’s time to turn these ideas into a tangible package. It’s time to make a deal.

Real reforms and new transportation revenues are the only solution that will truly address our huge backlog of maintenance. Reforms are critical to ensuring that new and existing transportation revenues are being spent on transportation as intended. They are also critical to ensuring that the system works effectively and efficiently.

Reforms should include taking steps at the state and local level to streamline project delivery and increasing Caltrans effectiveness through stronger oversight and efficiency reviews that reduce administrative costs. All savings from these accountability reforms should be directed to road improvements.

No one likes to talk about raising revenues. But, it’s undeniable that, even with reforms which we support, the current funding is insufficient to even maintain our local streets and roads. The annual combined shortfall for state and local transportation needs is close to $14B.The gas tax has not been increased in 20 years, and it doesn’t go as far as it used to due to more efficient cars and hybrid and electric vehicles. The money is running dry while the needs pile up.

The Fix Our Roads Coalition has advocated for $6 billion a year equally split between state and locals. The Governor’s proposal, while offering less funding but still making a significant difference, is also a meaningful package. The bottom line is that we need the Legislature to pass a reasonable revenue package, coupled with strong accountability, so that we can begin to address the daunting backlog of road maintenance and repairs and avoid more infrastructure failures. Only bold legislative leadership will prevent the future collapse of major parts of our transportation network. It’s long past time to get to work.

Ed’s Note: Jim Earp is executive consultant for the California Alliance for Jobs. Matt Cate is executive director of the California State Association of Counties. Chris McKenzie is executive director of the League of California Cities.

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