DALLAS – Congested, deteriorating roads and bridges could become a drag on California's economy without more infrastructure investment from all levels of government, the national transportation research organization TRIP said in a new report on the state's highway network.
Roads and bridges that are deficient, congested, or lack desirable safety features cost California motorists a total of $53.6 billion per year in higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes, and congestion-related delays, TRIP said.
"Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in California," said TRIP executive director Will Wilkins.
A healthy, efficient transportation system is vital to California's economy, with large commercial trucks accounting for 68% of the $2.8 trillion of goods shipped per year to and from sites in California, Wilkins said. Another 19% of the shipments are carried by multimodal systems or courier services, which include trucking.
"These conditions are only going to get worse if greater funding is not made available at the state and local levels," he said. "Without adequate investment, California's transportation system will become increasingly deteriorated and congested, hampering economic growth and the quality of life of the state's residents."
The five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, which was enacted in early December 2015, will provide a total of $19.4 billion of federal transportation funding to California through fiscal 2020. The average annual funding of $3.9 billion from the FAST Act is $400 million more than what California received in fiscal 2015, but is still inadequate, TRIP said.
"While the modest funding increase provided by the FAST Act will be helpful, numerous projects to improve the condition and expand the capacity of California's roads, highways, bridges and transit systems will not be able to proceed without a substantial boost in state or local transportation funding," the report said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown called the legislature into special session in June to look at ways to resolve what he was an unfunded road infrastructure repair backlog of $5.7 billion per year.
A transportation funding proposal released last week by two state Democrats in the state legislature would raise California's gasoline tax by 17 cents per gallon and the diesel tax by 30 cents per gallon, with a $165 per year fee for zero-emission vehicles.
State Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblyman Jim Frazier said their plan would raise an additional $7.4 billion per year for transportation, including $2.5 billion per year for cities and counties.
The current state gasoline tax of 38.6 cents per gallon and diesel tax of 38.7 cents per gallon generate $2.3 billion per year to fund work on 50,000 lane-miles and nearly 13,000 bridges on the state highway system.
A nine-month pilot program is underway to test whether a vehicle-miles-traveled road fee could replace California's fuel taxes with 5,000 motorists voluntarily participating.
The TRIP report found that 37% of major roads in California are in poor condition, with 42% in mediocre or fair condition and 21% in good condition. A quarter of the highway bridges in the system are in poor shape as well, TRIP said.
There are few surprises in the TRIP report for California motorists, said Will Kempton, executive director of Transportation California, a coalition of groups and individuals concerned about the future of California's transportation networks.
"The TRIP report confirms what everyone in California knows: the transportation system in this state is in bad shape," Kempton said. "It is past time for our elected officials in Sacramento to step up and deal with this problem."