DALLAS — City and county roads in California will continue to deteriorate unless significant increases in transportation funding can be obtained, according to a report from local government associations.
"The conditions of California's local streets and roads are rolling toward a cliff's edge," according to the biennial California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment.
Existing funding levels are insufficient to properly maintain streets, bridges, sidewalks, and traffic signals, and deferring the work likely will double the repair costs down the road, the report said.
Cities and counties need to spend $3.3 billion a year to keep their transportation infrastructure at its current fair condition and $7.3 billion to upgrade streets and roads to a good level, but current annual funding totals just $1.7 billion, it said.
"The condition of the system that makes up more than 80% of California's roadways is on the path to failure," the report warned.
The report identified total transportation needs of $108 billion over the next 10 years but only about $30 billion of expected funding. The resulting shortfall of $78.3 billion includes $56.1 billion for streets and roads, $20.9 billion for signals and other components, and $1.3 billion for bridges.
Updated every two years since 2008, the report is a joint effort between the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities, and the state's regional transportation planning agencies.
Inadequate funding has led to a large backlog of deferred maintenance, said Matt Cate, executive director of the county association.
The report estimated the unfunded maintenance backlog at $40 billion but said that would swell to $60 billion at current low spending levels.
"The state gas tax is only worth half of its value compared to when it was last increased in 1994," Cate said. "It is no wonder that funding is woefully inadequate."
The average condition of local roads was rated "fair," with 68 out of 100 on a condition scale, in the 2008 report. But their average condition has dropped to 66, the "at-risk" category, in the current study, he said. All but four of the state's 58 counties have average road conditions considered in the "at-risk" category, Cate said.
"In a decade, if we continue on the current path, we estimate that 25% of California's roads will be in a failed condition, meaning that the engineers who do these inspections can no longer certify them as being safe to drive on." Cate said.
"It's time to get serious about a more stable funding source for local streets, roads, and bridges so we can begin to catch up on a backlog of work that should have been completed long ago," Cate said.
Voters in 19 counties have approved sales tax increases dedicated to transportation needs and another 17 counties either have tried or failed to pass similar sales-tax measures, or are considering putting such measures on the ballot.
The 19 counties with a transportation sales tax account for 81% of the state's population. These sales taxes are expected to generate more than $95 billion through 2050.
Sources of potential additional revenue described in the assessment report included an increase in the state gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon, higher vehicle license fees, and replacing the gasoline tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee.
The state gasoline tax brings in $2.4 billion a year, but those revenues are distributed among cities, counties, and the state highway system. Other state taxes and fees bring the total tax on gasoline to 48.5 cents per gallon.