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ROAD REPAIR IN A RUT INDUSTRY REPORT RANKS CALIFORNIA FIRST IN DETERIORATION, LAST IN REPAIRS.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

California now ranks first in the nation for crumbling and congested highways, that cost each driver an extra $558 a year in car repairs, a study released Thursday said.

The roadbuilding industry report, which put the Golden State No. 3 last year and the year before for its cracked and potholed tarmac, now ranks it worse than Louisiana and Massachussetts.

``Simply put, we have a once-great system that is now worn out because we haven't made the effort to maintain it,'' said Larry Fisher, executive director of Transportation California, a road-building advocate and sponsor of the study.

``Obviously, we've got to do better - this is the greatest state in the greatest nation, with the poorest roads.''

The Transportation California report for road conditions last year was conducted by The Road Information Program, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank funded largely by the road-building industry.

Its road conditions study, normally published each spring, was timed to help launch Proposition 42 - a March ballot initiative that would earmark $1.2 billion in gasoline tax revenue to improve roads, bridges, highways and public transportation.

State transportation officials, while in support of the proposition, questioned the method and accuracy of the Transportation California report. They have characterized it as ``the fox guarding the henhouse'' for benefiting from the system.

California roads, of which 48,000 miles are managed by the state, are excellent, they maintain.

``We've got maintenance people seven days a week - if they see potholes, they're filled right away,'' said Margie Tiritilli, a Caltrans spokeswoman based in Los Angeles.

``I drive all the time and don't encounter poor roads. The only problem I see is heavy traffic congestion.''

The report, which could not pinpoint roads and highways marred by neglect, did find:

--Of the 168,000 miles of major roads in California, 37 percent were in poor condition - marked with large potholes, ruts and cracks. Mediocre roads in need of extensive repair accounted for an additional 35 percent.

--Three of every 10 of the state's overpasses and bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

--By spending $82 per capita on public roads last year, California invested less than any other state, including Illinois ($94), Michigan ($106) and Minnesota ($108). The national per capita was $157.

--California drivers paid an average of $558 a year on wheel alignments and other repairs because of poor highways, up from $354 the previous year.

Researchers stressed that poor road and bridge conditions did not necessarily render them unsafe. California roads, which TRIP ranked third worst in the nation for two years running, dropped to last place because of ``more inclusive'' Federal Highway Administration criteria, the report said.

``If California improved road conditions by half, it could save each motorist $215 a year, with $4.7 billion saved statewide,'' said Frank ``Rocky'' Moretti, research director for TRIP.

Unfortunately, he added, ``the problem faced by California motorists took many years to get to this point and will take many years of investment to improve our roads and highways.''

The answer, according to road-building and highway advocates, is Proposition 42.

If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would extend a directive by Gov. Gray Davis to spend gasoline sales taxes on transportation, including $1 billion for maintenance and repairs.

His $6.8 billion Traffic Congestion Relief Program, instituted last year, ends in 2008.

The proposition, supported by Davis and state Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Dutra, D-Fremont, would contribute $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion to the roughly $15 billion spent statewide on transportation.

State transportation programs would get 40 percent of the money, with local cities, counties and special projects getting 20 percent each.

In Los Angeles County, Proposition 42 funds would help widen the notorious San Diego and Ventura freeways interchange and build a San Fernando Valley busway along the Burbank/Chandler corridor.

In Ventura County, revenues would help widen Highway 23 between Moorpark and Thousand Oaks and widen Highway 101 between Ventura and Oxnard.

The California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union have reportedly fought the measure on grounds it would strip gas tax revenue currently earmarked for education.

Representatives for both unions were on holiday this week and could not be reached for comment.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Day Higuchi said he had no position on Proposition 42.

Proponents counter that, while sales tax money would be spent on roads in lieu of other programs, not a dime would be robbed from education because of special accounting procedures that guarantee a share to public schools.

CAPTION(S):

photo, 2 charts

Photo:

(color) According to a new study, California has the worst roads in the nation and spends the least on repair and maintenance.

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Chart:

(1) BAD ROADS

Taxpayer money earmarked for road construction and repair.

SOURCE: Transportation California, State Department of Finance

(2) BAD ROADS

California tops the list of worst roads in the nation.

SOURCE: Transportation California
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Dec 28, 2001
Words:826
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