California’s Roads: Long Neglected Maintenance is Now Urgent and Expensive
California lawmakers are struggling to climb out of a deep hole. The gas tax that supports road repairs ranks among the highest in the country but the state has some of the worst roads in America. A recent report from the state Senate said 68 percent of California roads are in poor or mediocre condition. It also said the cost for all of the unfunded repairs identified by state and local officials in the coming decade is about $135 billion.
State lawmakers are now meeting in a special session to find several billion dollars for the most urgent repairs, possibly with a higher gas tax. If more money isn’t found, “these roads will disintegrate to the point where they’ll have to be rebuilt, which is very, very expensive,” said state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, co-chair of a special committee working on the issue. The state transportation department, Caltrans, estimates every dollar spent on preventive maintenance today averts as much as $10 in repairs later.
The poor condition of California’s roads has prompted several state business organizations to join a broader coalition urging a solution that includes higher taxes and fees, increased accountability, and assurance that existing road-related fees are used for repairs. If motorists do pay more in taxes and fees, the money under discussion will primarily be used to keep roads, bridges and related infrastructure like culverts from falling apart. Transportation officials have identified about $57 billion in repairs needed for state roads in the coming decade in addition to about $78 billion needed for local roads, which are partly funded with state money.
Lawmakers hope to introduce a plan early next year that would fund at least 25 percent of the total need. But reaching agreement has proved difficult. Beall has introduced a plan to raise $4.3 billion annually while costing the average motorist about $130 per year, including a 12-cent increase in gas taxes. Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a more modest plan that would raise $3.6 billion per year with an average annual cost to motorists of about $84, including six cents more in gas taxes.