Budget issues force L.A. to fix mediocre streets but let the worst go unrepaired

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Although the overall quality of city streets in Los Angeles has improved since 2013, a geographic difference in street quality throughout the city remains an issue. Improvement rates in the San Fernando Valley are double those found in the rest of the city, whereas neighborhoods such as Mount Washington and Silver Lake rank among the shoddiest in the city.

The inequity is the result of a strategy akin to reverse triage: Unable to pay to fix all its broken streets, L.A. has chosen to spend its money to preserve so-so roadways — and largely ignore the very worst.

City leaders say they have little choice. Tackling the most battered streets would use so much funding that the city would be unable to prevent salvageable others from sliding into disrepair. Unless the city gets a lot more money, they say, the worst roads will remain the worst.

On average Los Angeles streets score a C on the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI), which is a sliding scale from zero to 100 points (a perfect A.) The city uses the PCI data to prioritize fixes.

But improving L.A.’s street network is a tall order. It’s the largest municipal system in the country, with 28,000 lane miles of paved roadway. Three years ago, street officials set a goal to bring the overall grade of roads in each city council district to the same level, but since 2013 more than 70% of C grade streets have been maintained or improved — compared with less than half of failing (D or F grade) streets. Kevin James, president of the Board of Public Works, says it’s more cost effective for the city’s Bureau of Street Services to maintain roads graded C or higher than to let them fall below that level.

The city also prioritizes fixing larger streets with heavier usage—major thoroughfares are improved at five times the rate of residential streets. Areas with concrete streets tend to be neglected. About 5% of city roadways are made of concrete, and nearly all have worsened in recent years, falling deeper into disrepair. Fixing a broken concrete street can cost up to 36 times as much as repairing a C street, according to the public works department.

For residents whose neighborhoods have heavy concentrations of failing and concrete streets, James was frank: “It’s just, without additional funding, going to take a very long time.”

Los Angeles County residents will vote in November on a ballot measure for a half-cent sales tax increase to fund rail expansion and road improvements. It includes a motion to set aside at least two-thirds of the estimated $55 million in “local return” money generated annually by the ballot measure for the repair of D- and F-rated streets.

James cautioned that without a budget infusion, the current pavement-preservation strategy will produce diminishing returns — the failing streets will never get fixed, and the mediocre streets will stay at the same level. “We are going to hit a wall at some point,” he said.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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