Riverside Press Enterprise Opinion Editorial: Legislators Should Vote To Fix California’s Roads

March 31, 2017
By Tonya Burke

Riverside County residents know our region is among the most dynamic in all of California. But even as our community continues to rank among the fastest-growing in the state, our economic growth and quality of life are being compromised by crumbling roads and inadequate public transit.

After years of gridlock in Sacramento, state leaders from Riverside County, state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and Assembly members Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, and Jose Medina, D-Riverside, have an opportunity in the coming days to reinvest in the roads of this state. A new, comprehensive transportation plan — backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, legislative leaders and a broad coalition of businesses, local leaders and transportation advocates — will be coming up for a vote before the April 6 deadline imposed by Brown, Senate President Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. It is critical that lawmakers vote Yes.

The plan will generate tens of millions of dollars of new revenue each year for Riverside County and the cities within it to make road safety improvements, fill potholes and repair local streets, highways, bridges and overpasses. These new revenues will come with new, tough accountability requirements like regular audits and oversight by the new Office of the Transportation Inspector General to ensure lawmakers in Sacramento can’t misspend the money.

Any new revenues also should have strict constitutional protections so that lawmakers can’t spend the money on anything except transportation projects.

This much-needed investment will help our economy stay on track, and give Riverside residents the transportation support we so desperately need for our growing region.

Riverside County has dozens of road projects that have been stalled or delayed because of inadequate funding. The Market Street and Mission Boulevards bridges, and the Limonite/15 Freeway interchange are just some of the repairs that would be possible if this transportation package is passed.

And in Perris, because we’re a small city, we rely heavily on state funding to assist infrastructure projects. Funds from a transportation package passed by the state Legislature could go toward many of our future capital improvement projects such as widening the Ethananc bridge at the San Jacinto River, improving upon our storm drains to decrease the level of flooding during heavy rainfall, and adding much-needed sidewalks that will improve upon the safety of children walking to schools located in their communities.

California can’t fix its roads with existing revenue. The tally of needed repairs totals more than $130 billion statewide. No matter what anyone says, there’s simply not enough money in the state general fund to make a dent in the backlog.

The longer we wait to fix these problems, and delay these projects, the bigger and more expensive they become. It costs eight times more to fix a road than to maintain it. Spending money on our roads now will boost the local economy and save Riverside residents money. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that for every $1 spent on road improvements, there is an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, fewer traffic delays, lower fuel consumption and improved safety.

This compromise plan includes smart, targeted investments that will produce results for the people of Riverside County and will save local taxpayers millions of dollars into the future.

For too long, the gridlock in Sacramento has led to gridlock on our streets. Lawmakers have failed to deliver a modern transportation plan to serve the growing population of Riverside County and of our state. Now, at last, a comprehensive solution is within reach to fix our roads and address our many transportation needs.

State leaders cannot afford to let this opportunity pass them by. A long-term, stable transportation funding plan will be unveiled soon. I invite Sen. Roth and Assembly Members Cervantes and Medina to stand boldly with myself and other local leaders in the Inland region, to help bring California’s crumbling roadways into the 21st Century. The time for delay is over. It’s time to vote yes on that plan by April 6.

Tonya Burke is a Perris City Council member.