Capitol Alert: California highways a bit better, but may get worse

Published: Monday, Mar. 24, 2014 - 12:07 pm

Pavement conditions on California's highways are among the worst in the nation, but the state transportation department says they've gotten a bit better in the last four years, thanks to spending $3.9 billion in state and federal funds.

About 16 percent of the state's 50,000 lane-miles of highway are considered to be in poor condition, but that's lower than in some recent years. The Federal Highway Administration has consistently placed California near the bottom in pavement conditions among the states, both for its highways and its local streets and roads.

However, the state Department of Transportation warns in a new report that the money is running out and the backlog of unmet maintenance needs is likely to grow.

"The 2013 Ten-Year Plan anticipates pavement needs to be $2.8 billion per year over the next decade, although only $685 million per year is available, i.e., only twenty-three cents of every dollar," the report warns. "Consequently, distressed lane miles could increase from 16 percent today to 34 percent in the next 10 years."

The report points out that California's highway system was largely built during a few decades after World War II, and therefore is aging rapidly as it's pounded by 35 million vehicles which pile up about 300 billion miles a year.

The surge in maintenance, reconstruction and replacement work in recent years was financed by a transportation bond issue and federal stimulus funds, both of which are running out.

Gov. Jerry Brown has said he doesn't believe that general obligation bonds should be used for roadwork and has diverted transportation revenues from gasoline taxes and other sources into repaying the bonds that were issued during predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship.

A coalition of transportation groups, pointing to the projection of unmet needs cited in the Caltrans report, has been searching for ways to increase revenues. Its initial proposal was for an increase in vehicle license fees, but that was abandoned. Other ideas have included raising gasoline taxes — although they are already the highest in the nation — or going to a mileage-based tax that would capture money from electric and hybrid vehicles.

Read more articles by Dan Walters



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