The Cost of Bad Roads
• $335 per motorist per year, nationally, in additional vehicle maintenance
• $600 per motorist per year, in California, in additional vehicle maintenance
• $18.7 billion annually, state-wide, in lost time and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion
* Information from The Road Information Program
A comprehensive survey commissioned by Stanislaus County and conducted by Infrastructure Management Services LLC, found that the streets in Turlock had an average Pavement Condition Index of 59, which puts it in the mid range of the “Satisfactory” category. A PCI is a measurement of the health of the pavement and ranges from an index of 0 to 100. The survey team drove and visually inspected all of Turlock’s roads, giving each network an index ranking.
The City of Turlock is responsible for the repair and maintenance of 496.09 lane miles of pavement. Of that total, the largest portion, 290.06 lane miles are residential streets, which scored an average PCI of 68, landing them in the “Good” category. Collector roads, referring to those streets that provide land access within residential neighborhoods and commercial and industrial areas, make up 137.89 lane miles and scored a PCI of 52, which is at the lower end of “Satisfactory.” The 68.15 lane miles of arterial roads, which are roads that carry the major portion of traffic in, out, and around the city, have a PCI of 49, putting them in the “Fair” category.
The goal is to have a PCI in the low to mid 80s and to maintain it at that level.
According to the report, the city would need to spend $144.9 million through 2013 to achieve a PCI in the low to mid 80s. That amount is about $143 million over the current funding level of $1 million that the city engineering department is allocated through federal grants, state bonds, and assessment district fees, according to Michael Pitcock, the director of development services and city engineer.
To keep Turlock streets at the status quo PCI of 59, the city would need to spend about $9 million annually, Pitcock said.
“We’re falling behind each year,” he said. “But if you don’t have the money, you just can’t do the repairs.”
The cost of repairing and maintaining roads is dependent on its PCI. If a road is categorized as “Good” then it takes very little money to maintain it as such. Preventive maintenance like repairing cracks and surface seals can greatly extend the life of a road and usually costs less that $2 per square yard. According to the report’s finding, 37 percent of Turlock’s roads would benefit from this kind of maintenance.
About 25.5 percent of Turlock’s street networks are in the “Satisfactory” category, meaning they’re showing signs of distress from traffic loads and the environment and need more than life-extending treatments. At this point the quality of the pavement has dropped about 40 percent and would likely need slurry seals or a thin overlay, which can range in costs from $2 per square yard to $25 per square yard.
The remaining 37.5 percent of the city’s street networks fall into the “Fair” or “Poor” PCI ranges. These pavements are at the end of their service and show such signs of wear and tear as potholes and extensive cracking. At this point it’s going to need a thick overlay or reconstruction, which costs approximately $25 per square yard to $60 per square yard. Because of the significant cost increase, the roads with the most problems are the ones that get put into the backlog of work.
Often times a city will spend more time and money on good and satisfactory roads, because as Pitcock put it, the taxpayers “get more bang for their buck.”
Keeping a good or satisfactory road at that level is a cost-effective move, especially for those in the satisfactory category. If left untreated, these roads can rapidly deteriorate, which ends up costing more to repair.
Street networks that fall within assessment districts are also going to benefit from more frequent maintenance. Since the 1990s, all new subdivisions and commercial enterprises have had to pay assessment fees, which in part are used to fund regular preventive maintenance. By law, these funds have to be spent within the assessment district and cannot be used in other areas like older neighborhoods where the roads have a lower PCI.
The city is also expecting to put some of the stimulus funds towards road repairs and reconstruction this year, particularly on Canal Drive, one of the worst scoring roads in the city.
Turlock’s road woes are hardly unique. Up and down the Golden State cities and counties are dealing with crumbling infrastructures and not enough funds to fill the holes and cracks.
Overall, Stanislaus County’s roads faired better than most in the state. The recently released Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment report gave the county an average PCI of 88. It also identified 1,300 miles of road in the county that need repairs immediately, at a cost of about $100 million, funds that the county doesn’t have to spend.
Statewide, California streets and roads had an average PCI of 68.
In November 2009, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, along with the nonprofit organization The Road Information Program, or TRIP, identified the worst 20 roads in the nation’s urban areas and eight were in California. The same study ranked California 49th out of the 50 states for road conditions and the worst when it comes to urban roads.
Given the state’s massive budget shortfalls and the prevalent car culture on the West Coast, those rankings are not likely to improve anytime soon. TRIP’s report found that vehicle travel on California highways grew by 22 percent between 1990 and 2008, jumping from 259 billion vehicle miles traveled to 315 billion vehicle miles traveled. By 2025, the number is expected to increase by 20 percent, representing 378 billion vehicle miles traveled.
Driving on bad roads costs drivers more that just frayed nerves. According to TRIP’s report, the national average cost of additional vehicle maintenance caused by bad roads is $335 per motorist per year. In California, the average is $600 per motorist per year for extra vehicle operating costs, amounting to about $13.5 billion statewide annually. Additionally, the statewide cost of traffic congestion resulting in lost time and wasted fuel has been calculated to approximately $18.7 billion annually.
The fear of many public works and city engineering departments is that the condition of the state’s networks of roads is only going to deteriorate more if the funding isn’t brought to adequate levels, or worse yet, reduced even further.
Prop 42 was passed by the voters in 2002 with the intent of dedicating gas tax revenue to transportation projects. However, a provision allowed the state government to retain revenue during times of financial crisis, which it has done for several years.
In 2006, voters passed Prop 1A to close the loophole. In the following budget year, when the state again tried to use the transit funds to pay for other programs, a lawsuit was filed to stop them. Currently, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to eliminate the sales tax on gasoline and replace most of the lost revenue through an increase to the excise tax on gas. Public transit agencies have said they would lose $1.65 billion and that over time the money available for road construction and maintenance would be depleted.
While updating the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on the road situation, Matt Machado, the director of public works for the county, said the governor’s proposal would “decimate our road program and, really, public works in general.”
In the hopes of preventing such a scenario, several city and county organizations throughout the state are trying to qualify the Local Taxpayer, Public Safety, and Transportation Act of 2010 for the November election. The measure is essentially trying to prevent the state government from borrowing dedicated funds from cities and counties.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.