California has worst roads in U.S. and spends least to fix them

By Colleen Valles Associated Press Writer
Friday December 28, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO – In California, where the car is king, the roads are hardly fit for royalty. 

The state ranks last in the nation in per capita spending to fix its roads, which rank first in the nation for being the most dilapidated, according to a study by a transportation advocacy group released Thursday. 

More than a third of the state’s 168,000 miles of road are rated “poor” by the state, according to the report by The Road Information Program, which it completed for another transportation advocacy group, Transportation California. 

The TRIP analysis of 2000 information from the Federal Highway Administration found that 37 percent of California’s roads were rated poor. By comparison, none of the roads in top-ranked Georgia had that rating. 

While the Federal Highway Administration doesn’t break down per capita spending on roads, TRIP said its analysis of data found that California spent only $82 per person on maintenance. According to the report, the bottom five also included Illinois, which spent $94 per capita; Michigan, which spent $106; Minnesota, which spent $108; and Ohio, which spent $109. 

TRIP would not release the entire state breakdown of per capita spending, saying states were sensitive about the information. 

The report looks at interstates, freeways, major state roads and arterial roads, which are the major roads of a community, said TRIP research director Frank Moretti. 

Some government transportation officials were skeptical about the analysis, but Moretti said the study used data gathered by states using the same model. 

Larry Fisher, executive director of Transportation California, said a decades-long trend of underfunding road maintenance needs to be reversed to accommodate the predicted explosion in the number of drivers on California’s roads. 

“We have a once-great system that has just worn out because we haven’t made the investment to maintain it,” he said. “This takes a terrible toll on motorists.” 

But Dennis Trujillo, of the state Department of Transportation, said the state is turning that around, dedicating about $1 billion a year to maintenance and repairs. Cities and counties received an additional $400 million last year for maintenance as part of the state’s Congestion Relief Program. The state currently has $6 billion in general road improvements under way. 

“This governor has reversed a trend of 16 years of disinvestment in transportation,” he said. “I believe our system is second to none, but there’s room for improvement.” 

Of the 168,000 miles of road the study looked at in California, the state Department of Transportation owns and maintains about 48,000. The rest are owned and maintained by cities and counties. 

The study said that the miles traveled on California’s roads increased 97 percent from 156 billion to 307 billion miles between 1980 and 2000, and that is expected to increase by another 63 percent by 2025. 

Proponents of Proposition 42, which is slated for the March 5 ballot and which would use sales tax from gasoline sales for road maintenance, used the study to bolster their position. The study recommends passage of the measure to pay for repairs. 

Currently, repairs for local roads are paid using money from state and federal gas taxes, which are different from the gas sales tax. Repairs for state roads also are paid through the state gas tax. Money from the gas sales tax currently goes into the state’s general fund, where it is divvied up for various purposes. 

The report said that if the state puts off improving roads, it will just cost more in the long run — for motorists and government. According to the report, drivers in the state pay an average of $558 per person each year to fix damage caused by driving on bad roads. If the state fixed just 20 percent of roads rated poor and mediocre, it could save motorists $215 each year, the study said. 

The report also found that three of every 10 bridges in the state is structurally deficient, which means they have significant wear but aren’t in any immediate danger of collapse, Moretti said.