April 1, 2017
By Susuna Z. Cruz
Everyone agrees California’s roads need fixing. In the first two months of the year, Caltrans crews repaired nearly 97,000 potholes — almost twice as many as they repaired in 2016. The intense recent winter storms have brought more than $800 million in damage to state highways alone since January.
Why are the roads in such poor condition? The Golden State is the world’s sixth-largest economy, home to nearly 39 million people and moves about $3 trillion worth of goods annually on a highway system that, on average, is more than 50 years old. Californians drive more than 350 billion miles a year on the highways and roads — more motorists driving more miles than any other state. Gas taxes pay for road maintenance, yet the Legislature has not increased California’s gas tax in 28 years.
California has not raised a stable revenue source for road maintenance and one-time bond funds do not include a consistent funding source to maintain new infrastructure after it is built. As a result, maintenance costs are nearly four times the available state funding, resulting in a $6 billion annual maintenance backlog. As a result of that shortfall, the California Transportation Commission delayed or cut funding for over 200 new projects in recent years.
The recent storms are calling renewed attention to this infrastructure crisis. Storm damage has taken an immense toll on Monterey County, especially along Highway 1 from Big Sur extending to San Luis Obispo County. The most visible damage has been at the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which experienced damage so severe in February it had to be torn down these past two weeks. Severe erosion due to winter storms caused the support beams of the bridge to fail; now Caltrans will be working expeditiously for the next six to nine months to rebuild the bridge and reconnect the Highway 1 coastline.
Aside from the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, Caltrans is working to clear major landslides and shore up erosion along a 30-mile stretch of Highway 1 — the department understands how important this corridor is to tourism and recreation along our beautiful coastline, as a department we’re working diligently to restore the roadway as quickly and safely as possible.
These incidents have shown the critical need for increasing California’s investment in repairing and maintaining our existing infrastructure. Every dollar we spend now on maintenance saves us from having to spend $8 on future, more expensive repairs.
In the Monterey region, new revenue could repair the crumbling pavement on Highways 68 and 101; improve Highway 183 in downtown Castroville, Highway 218 in Seaside and Highway 68 in Pacific Grove. We could also make the existing system run better with operational improvement for freight movement and changeable message signs along Highway 101.
The California Legislature is currently discussing a proposal that seeks to address these issues. As we wait for funding from Sacramento, Caltrans will continue to make the public’s safety our top priority and adopt a “fix it first” approach. Meanwhile, the need to increase funding for repairs and maintenance will not go away and will only grow more expensive the longer we wait.
Susana Z. Cruz is acting manager of public information for Caltrans District 5.