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  • Steve Cohn

  • Mike McGowan

Viewpoints: State's local streets and roads system is going downhill fast

Published: Friday, Mar. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 13A
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 24, 2013 - 11:17 am

These days, a scenic drive through Amador, Sonoma or Monterey county is more likely to jar your bones than soothe your soul. A new study shows that these are some of the worst roads in the state, but potholes, crumbling pavement and outdated bridges take their toll on all of us – whether we're behind the wheel, on a bike or taking a bus.

While we can probably all agree it makes sense to fix our local streets and roads, consider this the next time you pick your way through a road riddled with potholes: Either we find the money to fix our deteriorating roads now or we'll be forced to pay more than twice as much for expensive repairs later.

The results of the 2012 California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment are in and they show that California's local roads have been on a steady downward trend since 2008, when the first "needs assessment" was completed. Today, the majority of California's counties have an average pavement condition rating that is considered at risk. What does that mean? Our local streets and roads system is on the verge of collapse; either we find new sources of revenue to fix the pavement now or pay much more to completely replace it when it falls apart.

Cities and counties own 81 percent of California's streets and roads that tie the entire statewide transportation system together. It's hard to imagine a day without using a local street; from the moment we open the front door in the morning to drive to work, bike to school, walk to the bus stop, buy groceries or get to the highway, we're dependent upon streets and roads.

Unfortunately, shrinking revenues, rising construction costs, heavier vehicles and increased traffic have all hampered local efforts to deal with an aging infrastructure. In addition, cash-strapped communities must accommodate buses, bicyclists, pedestrians, the disabled and schoolchildren, and meet the growing demand for cleaner air and water.

At a time of budget shortfalls, few elected officials want to discuss increased funding needs. But we owe it to families and communities to face the facts: To restore and maintain our existing streets and roads network – which includes bridges, traffic signals, signage, storm drains, sidewalks, curbs and gutters – we need to find additional revenue.

If we don't act, we risk letting the system fall into a level of disrepair that will jeopardize public safety and cost billions of dollars more to fix down the line.

It is imperative that we find new sources of revenue to fix California's local roadways. We need to make sure that law enforcement, emergency responders and school buses arrive at their destinations safely and reliably. Modernizing streets and roads will reduce drive time and traffic congestion, improve bicycle safety and make the pedestrian experience more appealing – all of which help reduce vehicle emissions.

Restoring roads before they fail will reduce construction time, so there will be less air pollution from heavy equipment and less water pollution from site runoff. By protecting this public investment – which taxpayers have already paid into – well-paying construction jobs will be created, boosting local economies.

We all use local streets and roads, whether we drive, bike, take the bus or train, and we should all bear the cost of restoring them. Californians will have to work together to find solutions, and push state and local governments to establish sustainable transportation revenues. Funding should be focused on preserving our existing roads network to reduce maintenance costs down the line. By doing so, we will protect taxpayer investment, create new jobs, reduce pollution and save money in the long term. And, most importantly, we'll keep our streets and roads safe and reliable, now and in the future.

City Councilman Steve Cohn represents Sacramento's 3rd District and is a board member of the Sacramento Regional Transit District. Mike McGowan is a Yolo County supervisor and serves as the immediate past president for the California State Association of Counties.

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