Modesto Bee Opinion Editorial: We All Pay the More Sacramento Delays on Fixing Our Roads

February 13, 2017
By Tony Madrigal

The California legislature urgently needs to pass a transportation funding package in 2017 to address the billions in backlogged road maintenance that has led to potholes, deteriorating roads, bridges and transit systems in our community.

The longer we wait to fix the small problems, the bigger and more expensive they become. In fact, it costs eight times more to fix a road than to simply maintain it.

Thankfully there are positive signs. First, Stanislaus County voters approved Measure L – the half-cent transportation sales tax last November with a yes vote of 71.9 percent! This investment in our transportation infrastructure makes Stanislaus a self-help county, meaning we can better compete for state and federal transportation dollars to fix our local streets and roads.

But that’s just the local part of the transportation funding picture.

In Sacramento, legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown have promised to pass a long-term, dedicated transportation funding package. Passage of two bills, SB 1 (Sen. Jim Beall, Campbell) and AB 1 (Jim Frazier, Oakley) will generate new revenue that can boost funding for transportation fixes in Modesto and Stanislaus County. These bills also contain strong accountability requirements to reduce bureaucracy and streamline project delivery.

SB 1, the first up for a vote, will be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 14. It should be fast-tracked for passage.

In the city of Modesto, we have over $100 million in backlogged local streets and road repairs – including fixing potholes, resurfacing and reconstruction of neighborhood streets. Further, some of our major transportation improvement projects are long overdue, such as the Highway 99 overpasses at Standiford and Briggsmore avenues and Crows Landing Road – to name a few. Though Measure L will provide additional funding for these repairs and others, it is not enough to alone address the massive backlog. State funds from a long-term transportation package will help stretch our local dollars.

I strongly support SB 1 and AB 1 because both will provide:

▪ New revenues for transportation. Though not identical, both SB 1 and AB 1 are long-term transportation reform and funding packages that contain new revenues to make road safety improvements, fill potholes and repair local streets, highways, bridges and overpasses. Each bill would raise at least $6 billion when fully phased in, which is urgently needed to make a dent in the maintenance backlog. The new maintenance revenues will be split between state and local roads.
▪ Strong accountability provisions. SB 1 and AB 1 include provisions to cut bureaucratic redundancies and red tape to ensure transportation funds are spent efficiently and effectively. Both give more independence to the California Transportation Commission and establish the independent office of Transportation Inspector General to perform audits, improve efficiency and increase transparency.

SB 1 and AB 1 should be coupled with strong constitutional protections to prevent the state legislature from using any new revenues for anything except road maintenance, improvement and transportation projects.

It has been 23 years since California has increased funding for transportation. As a result, road repairs now receive only 50 percent of the funding they did back in 1994. Inflation, more fuel efficient cars and electric and hybrid vehicles have eroded transportation funding through the gas tax over the years. Motorists are paying the price. According to a 2015 study from the National Transportation Research Group, the poor condition of California streets and roads costs the average driver $762 annually in additional maintenance.

Between upgrades to our state highway system ($59 billion) and our local streets and roads ($73 billion), our state needs $130 billion in transportation funding. Legislators must act quickly to pass a transportation funding package to prevent further deterioration of our network and further deterioration of our cars from driving on pothole-filled roads. Contact your state legislators today and tell them don’t delay our transportation funding!
We all pay, the more Sacramento delays.

Tony Madrigal is a member of the Modesto City Council, representing District 2.