What Will It Take for Caltrans to Decide to “Fix-It-First?”

11_24_09_metblogs_pothole.jpgPhoto: Metblogs

How many people would be surprised to discover that California’s roads were ranked as the third worst in the nation?  According to a recent survey of truckers by Overdrive Magazine who make cross-country trips, only two states have worse roads, and none have worse drivers.  Locally, the I-5 and I-10 were listed as "unspeakably bad" roads. 

The Daily News reports that these truckers, hardly a group known for environmental thinking, have called on Caltrans to embrace a "Fix-It-First" philosophy where they direct a dedicate a portion of the budget every year to maintaining highways.

Oh, wait.  That story was from 1999.

More recently, the Sierra Club released a report ranking the nation’s highways, surface streets, and bridges according to the percent of which have been rated "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete."  California’s freeways ranked last in the country, with 45% earning one of these "distinctions."  The Sierra Club recommends a "Fix-It-First" approach to planning to reverse this trend of failing roads.

That story is from 2005.

Yesterday, AASHTO, which is basically the highway builders lobby, released their own report on the state of our highways.  According to National Public Radio, California didn’t fare too well.

California is known for its car culture. But it turns out those wheels
are rolling over some of the worst roads in the nation. A recent study
ranked California 49th out of the 50 states for the quality of its
pavement. New Jersey came in last. But California has the distinction
of having the nation’s worst roads in urban areas.

And yet, in a time of limited transportation funding, our priority remains to build more and more highways while the ones we have continue to fall into a state of neglect.  The poor condition of our roads has led to more expensive commutes for car commuters.  Nationally, the poor condition of our roads costs drivers $335 a year.  In Los Angeles, that number is $746.

In the ten years since Overdrive Magazine ranked our roads the third worst in the country, California has responded by doing nothing to make our roads more safe.  Instead, the roads actually got worse as compared to the rest of the country.

  • State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) has been woefully underfunded for years. You read the annual reports by the California Transportation Commission and they document this sad state of affairs. And yet the policymakers continue to stall at finding a way to get our roads toward any reasonable timeline to be returned to a state of good repair.

    Neglecting pavement maintenance is a bad idea as eventually repair costs skyrocket beyond a certain point. I’ve compiled a resource page on the SO.CA.TA website on this topic: http://socata.net/26.html

    People rail about the evils of taxes. Isn’t your car or bike being damaged by potholes a tax when you have to shell out money to fix the damage? It is so shortsighted to underfund this.

  • Stephen

    To be fair, CalTrans doesn’t maintain all roads. A lot of them fall under local city agencies’ responsibilities.

    But our cities are just as guilty of neglecting the roads.

  • Clutch J

    Fix-it-first is a wonderful umbrella for complete streets. The argument is that existing roads need to be brought up to a state of good repair for all users.

  • When I moved to California in the late ’80s, I thought this was the only state I’d ever seen where the roads were worse than in Louisiana. And they’ve only deteriorated further in the years since.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s all just a clever ploy to get more people to walk, bike and use mass transit. After all, once the streets are impassible, people won’t have any other choice.

  • Aggressive maintenance is necessary, but it’s not as sexy as opening another carpool lane that is useless to transit riders and single occupancy drivers. The gas tax absolutely needs to go up, but that is political suicide. Instead we get bright ideas like using money returned from TARP loans to banks to juice up the highway bill with more projects (as reported by the OCTA board chairman at yesterday’s OCTA board meeting).

    Then again, with trillion dollar deficits on the federal level, what’s another $100 billion or so on keeping our roads functional and our bridges safe? Better than going into Wall Street bonuses.

  • What I find unbelievable is that folks think we should continue building more and more roadways rather than funding such things as lightrail when this country can’t even afford to maintain the roads it already has.

    Our infrastructure is quite literally falling apart, which means that among other things freight (one main component in the recent spike in freight costs is the increasing need to maintain eighteen wheelers or VMT upticks due to such things as dilapidated bridge closings) will no longer be able to move in its current manner. Nor will people. Furthermore, most of our foodstuffs are imported as are most other goods, and our whole global system of economic growth is predicated upon GDP (Simon Kuznets: “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income” ) and subsidized-so-it-can-be-cheap consumption of energy. The global production of oil has nearly reached its peak point (some illustrious thinking folk well-connected in the biz argue that it already has in Saudi Arabia), which is going to have extreme ramifications, one of the effects obviously being our society becoming much less global and much more local in nature.

    It’s a shame, how those towns beyond a fifty mile proximity to Interstates have been allowed to die (i.e. America’s Heartland). It’s a shame, how both our domestic agricultural and industrial capacity has been so extensively desiccated via outsourcing. And it’s a shame, how our intraurban and Interstate Rail System was destroyed, an act that among others General Motors and Standard Oil were convicted for conspiring against the public’s welfare.

  • Andy Chow

    Well maintained roads are essential to safety and improve ride quality for bus riders.

    I would like to see what could be done to soften the economic impacts on transit agencies, especially on operating costs. I would like to see increased funding to maintain operations, and deny highway funding to cities that are cutting transit service but want more money for highways (OCTA is one of those).



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