California’s Road Funding Crisis

At a recent forum in Riverside County, California’s Transportation Commission’s executive director Will Kempton discussed the road funding crisis facing the state. Kempton’s commission, which oversees transportation projects statewide, set up the forum and invited Inland Empire transportation officials to participate in a panel discussion.

Kempton told attendees that California’s system to pay for road work is “in crisis” because the gas tax can no longer provide enough money to meet mounting needs. “We’ve got a system that has been significantly underfunded for many years,” he said. The state currently faces a deferred road maintenance backlog approaching $60 billion, according to the commission’s figures. One in four local streets will be in “failed” condition by 2022, the figures show.

Attacking that backlog has been a hot topic in Sacramento. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, released earlier this month, relies on a $65 annual fee on all vehicles to fund $36 billion in transportation projects over 10 years. Another proposal would replace the gas tax with a tax based on how far a motorist drives — a pilot program to test the tax is set to begin this summer. Any new revenue for transportation must be accompanied by assurances that revenue will be properly spent, Kempton said. “We talk about reform and revenues as part of the solution,” he said.

Local transportation needs were also discussed, including how to deal with the massive influx of truck traffic that supports the Inland economy but also leaves residents dealing with traffic backups, road wear-and-tear and air pollution. Alan Wapner, an Ontario councilman who chairs the Southern California Association of Governments’ transportation committee, mentioned a plan for an East-West truck corridor that would add truck lanes between Interstate 710 in Commerce and Interstate 15 in Ontario. Anne Mayer, executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, noted that more than $500 million has been spent on grade separation projects so cars don’t have to wait for passing trains, but more of those projects are needed.

“It’s important to get state and federal funding to make sure local communities don’t bear the cost of freight-related projects, said Mayer.

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