Sacramento, California cities score poorly on bumpy road index

Sacramento ranks 24th-worst nationally among large urban areas for potholes, cracks and bumpy pavement.
Sacramento ranks 24th-worst nationally among large urban areas for potholes, cracks and bumpy pavement. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

Sacramento and other California urban areas have some of the nation’s worst-maintained roads, a new analysis finds.

The Sacramento area ranked 24th worst in the nation for road pavement quality, just behind Seattle and Omaha, and ahead of New Orleans. Forty-two percent of the metropolitan area’s road surfaces were rated as poor in 2013, according to a study by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based research group funded by the construction industry, labor unions, insurance companies, and equipment manufacturers among others.

Sacramento roads are ranked considerably better than those in the two largest urban areas in the state. Three-quarters of the pavement on major San Francisco-Oakland area roads is in poor condition, the highest level in the country. Los Angeles ranked second, and San Jose fifth. Other major urban areas with problems include Detroit, Cleveland and New York.

California officials acknowledge the state has struggled, so far unsuccessfully, to find the financing to put a dent in an estimated $60 billion backlog in roadway repairs. The TRIP report measurement data came prior to a recent push by Caltrans in the Sacramento area to replace pavement on Highway 50 and Interstate 5 downtown, as well as on the Pioneer Bridge and on Interstate 80 in north Sacramento and Natomas.

The report – based on 2013 information submitted by each state to the federal government – found 28 percent of urban roads overall nationally are substandard. The report release came Thursday, a week before a deadline for Congress to pass a national transportation funding bill for the next few years.

Federal and state transportation officials say the moment is critical. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which supplies billions of dollars annually to states and municipalities for transportation purposes, is underfunded, and has been subsidized annually in recent years by the federal Treasury. Congress has not raised the federal gas tax since 1993, nor has it come up with alternative funding mechanisms to augment or replace the gas tax.

TRIP and other transportation related groups are calling on Congress to come up with long-term, stable transportation funding. With roadway use on the rise, including by larger trucks, pavement maintenance and repair continues to be a critical issue facing most states, the TRIP report says.

“The additional travel will increase the amount of road, highway and bridge investment which will be needed to improve conditions and meet the nation’s transportation needs,” the report authors write.

California faces similar funding issues. Gov. Jerry Brown has called this year for the Legislature to find a way past its own transportation funding stalemate to look for new sources of funds. The state gasoline tax has held steady since 1990 with diminishing returns, as newer higher-mileage cars take less gas, and as state highways reach middle age and need more repair.