August 24, 2015
Roads in Riverside County rank as some of the worst in the country. Our infrastructure is riddled with aging bridges, crumbling asphalt and potholes that cause costly repairs for Inland drivers.
Our county and state are growing, our funding system is outdated and our infrastructure is falling into more disrepair every year. Roads in the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area now rank 14th worst among the nation’s large urban areas. Inland drivers incur $812 in additional annual car maintenance costs – and even more in some areas – because of our decaying roadways.
It’s time for state lawmakers to fix our broken transportation funding system and make critical investments in infrastructure. We urge our legislators, who are gathered in Sacramento for a special session on transportation, to seize this golden opportunity and reach a comprehensive, balanced approach to fixing our failing transportation system.
We are part of a broad coalition of businesses, local governments, working families and others who are calling on our state lawmakers to make bold and forward-thinking changes in the coming weeks. We want to see responsible reforms and accountability standards to ensure we get the most bang for our buck on both existing transportation dollars and any new money motorists contribute.
The backlog of maintenance and repairs to the state’s transportation infrastructure has been well documented. Streets and roads statewide need more than $78 billion over the next 10 years for basic maintenance, and the state has $59 billion in overdue maintenance to highways and bridges.
In addition, several long-term trends have contributed to the continued decline of transportation infrastructure plaguing California drivers.
First, as vehicles become more fuel efficient, less is collected at the pump to fix streets and highways. The growing use of alternative fuel and electric power vehicles means there are automobiles on the road today that put wear and tear on the system, yet pay little or no tax for upkeep. One option is a user fee on electric vehicle registrations that would ensure the burden of road maintenance is not falling solely on drivers of traditional motor vehicles.
Second, California’s reliance on taxing fuel to fund infrastructure is no longer adequate to cover maintenance needs. In fact, local governments in Riverside County experienced a steep drop in revenue – about $26 million – this year, as a result of volatile fuel prices. Legislators need to stabilize fluctuating transportation funding.
State legislators are beginning the difficult discussion of evaluating how we change the way we pay for transportation. Having thoroughly studied this issue, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and Corona City Council voted in support of fixing the state’s underfunded transportation system.
We believe every dime we’re paying for transportation should go to transportation projects. Transportation dollars that have been diverted for other programs in the state budget should be returned to their intended purpose. As much as $1.8 billion from state and local transportation accounts was borrowed or permanently taken to cover the state’s budget deficits. A constitutional guarantee that keeps transportation funds in transportation accounts is very much needed.
We also support measures that would boost Caltrans’ effectiveness through increased oversight and efficiency reviews to reduce administrative costs. All the savings in this effort should go straight toward improving the condition and safety of Riverside County roads, highways and bridges, as well as state highways.
Even if we do all that, there will still be a significant gap unless legislators confront the long-term trends described above. That’s why some kind of additional funding, whether it is drawn from state accounts and/or from increased taxes and fees, needs to be coupled with these accountability and efficiency provisions. More taxes are not something we typically would promote, but our residents deserve a solution to this growing crisis.
The longer we wait to repair our crumbling roads, the bigger the problems get and the more expensive the fixes become. Addressing this now will reduce the future burden to taxpayers and create the kind of modern infrastructure the golden state needs.
John J. Benoit is the vice chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Eugene Montanez is mayor of Corona and sits on the executive committee of the Western
Riverside Council of Governments.