January 4, 2017
Local governments spent the last two years sounding the alarm about our crumbling transportation network and educating policymakers about the poor condition of our streets and highways and the cost to fix them.
Unfortunately, California still does not have a solution to provide the funding needed to maintain our critical transportation network in the condition that residents, visitors and businesses deserve, and that moving goods and people throughout the state requires.
The governor, Assembly speaker and Senate president pro tempore acknowledged that the special session the governor called in July 2015 would expire Nov. 30 without a plan. Instead, they promised to address transportation funding early in the new legislative session that begins this week. We expect them to keep that promise, and we remain hopeful that they will.
We have eight years of research that shows the continual decline of our local road system. The backlog of deferred maintenance has become critical. Many roads are past the point of simple maintenance and need to be completely replaced at about ten times the cost. For instance, Stanislaus County used to resurface about 100 miles of road a year. Now, the county has funds for just three miles.
This is about more than just potholes. Californians are subjected to some of the worst infrastructure conditions in the nation. Pavement with chunks of asphalt missing is unsafe, punishing to vehicles and increases smog emissions.
Many local governments are trying to encourage alternatives to driving. But without money for basic maintenance, retrofitting streets and sidewalks to make them safer for walking and biking is out of reach.
Current revenue simply has not kept pace with the need. The state highway system and local road system both have backlogs estimated at more than $70 billion over the next decade.
While more counties and cities are supporting local measures to fund their streets and roads, it is not enough. Between increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles, lower gas prices and a gas tax that hasn’t changed since 1994, local governments have just half as much funding to maintain their streets and roads as they did a generation ago, even before adjusting for inflation.
Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have been working on legislation that includes modest increases to existing revenue sources and some commonsense reforms that can streamline the project approval process. We commend our champions in the Legislature, especially Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, an Oakley Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.
However, we cannot afford any more distractions or delays in passing legislation for transportation investment and reform. The governor and legislative leaders must keep their promise to help local governments and the state invest in fixing our roads. Anything less will put our residents at risk and cost millions more in the long run.
Matt Cate is executive director of the California Association of Counties and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Carolyn Coleman is executive director of the League of California Cities and can be contacted at email@example.com.