DALLAS - California highways are heading toward a $60 billion pothole over the next 10 years between what it will cost to keep state roads in good condition and the revenue coming in from dedicated taxes, according to the latest assessment from the California Department of Transportation.
The state highway operations plan, which is updated every two years, identified approximately $8 billion of annual improvement projects and preventive maintenance efforts through 2025 but only $2.3 billion of dedicated road revenues to pay for them, said Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty.
"This funding shortfall presents a serious challenge to Caltrans and this state's transportation system," Dougherty said.
The state concentrates its available revenues on preventive projects to extend the life of its existing road infrastructure, he said, but the $5.7 billion annual shortfall will make that harder to accomplish.
"Our maintenance dollars can only go so far, however, and California is facing much more expensive repairs to its infrastructure in the future due to a growing backlog of necessary repairs," Dougherty said.
State taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel are the department's primary revenue sources for road maintenance and operational spending, he said.
Caltrans' fiscal 2015 budget of $10.4 billion includes $3.6 billion from state fuels taxes and federal reimbursements of $4.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund.
Revenues from the state gasoline tax are declining over the long term because vehicles are more fuel efficient and many motorists are opting for alternative-fuel vehicles that use little or no gasoline, Dougherty said.
The state is considering a vehicle-miles-traveled road fee system such as the one set to begin this summer in Oregon, along with some proposed legislative solutions, he said.
A bill filed in April by state Sen. Jim Beall, a Democrat from San Jose and chairman of the California Senate's transportation committee, would raise state taxes dedicated to road projects by $3 billion a year.
The measure would raise the state gasoline tax by 10 cents, increase the annual vehicle registration fee by $35, and levy a $100 per year surcharge on vehicles that don't use gasoline. Beall's plan also would phase in a 3.5% increase in state vehicle license fees over five years.
"All of us who drive share a responsibility to maintain our roads," Beall said. "Taking action now is crucial because it will save us money in the long run as the cost of materials and inflation rises."
California motorists currently pay a state gasoline tax of 39.5 cents per gallon of gasoline and a 2.25% sales tax for a total charge of 46.5 cents per gallon, as well as a combined diesel tax of 38 cents per gallon that includes a 9% sales tax. Those state taxes are in addition to the federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel.
Five states have increased their gasoline taxes in 2015, but last week Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have raised the state gasoline tax of 26.5 cents per gallon by six cents over four years.
The tax increase, which passed by a 26-15 vote in the state's unicameral legislature, would have generated an estimated $76 million a year for road and bridge repairs.
Ricketts, a Republican, said he remains committed to meeting the state's road needs.
"I cannot, however, support raising taxes as the first solution to this issue," he said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a Monday morning transportation forum in Washington sponsored by Bloomberg Government that six states have delayed or deferred almost $2 billion of road projects planned for 2015 over concerns about continued federal highway funding.
The current extension of the HTF's solvency is set to expire May 31 unless Congress acts within the next 10 days, Foxx said, noting that another short-term extension would be the 33rd in the past six years.
"We have a clock that is running out," Foxx said. "There is so much uncertainty about federal transportation funding that it is crippling our system."