The Transportation for America reported that 45 percent of California’s 394,383 lane miles of roads are rated in “poor condition.”
The stated mission of the nonpartisan think tank known as “T4-America” is to assist local government leaders make sure that states and federal government invest in “smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions.”
The World Economic Forum highlights four basic economic pillars that contribute to global economic competitiveness among the 193 nations of the world: 1) institutions; 2) Infrastructure; 3) macroeconomic environment; and 4) health and primary education.
The United States' strongest basic pillar has been infrastructure that includes effective modes of transport, electricity supplies free from interruptions and shortages, and an extensive telecommunications network that allow rapid and free flow of information.
The U.S. historically has been at or near the top each year for infrastructure, and still has excellent electric supplies and the world’s leading telecommunications structures. But the U.S. rating has declined to 11th place internationally due to deterioration of its roads, railroads, ports, and air transport to move goods to market and workers to their jobs.
The latest T4-America Repair Priorities 2019 report reveals that the percentage of U.S. roads nationwide in “poor condition” increased from 14 percent to 20 percent, and 37 states saw the percentage of their roads in poor condition increase from 2009-2017.
This analysis generally blames policies by individual states that neglect basic repairs in favor of expanding road miles. Due to spending flexibility offered by Congress over the last two five-year transportation reauthorization bills, states spent nearly as much money expanding the number of road miles as repairing their existing road system.
States from 2009-2017 annually spent about $21.4 billion on road repair for the nation’s 72 million public lane miles and $21.3 billion to add 223,494 lane miles. But with every new lane mile costing about $24,000 per year to keep in “good repair,” the system deteriorated and the number of lane miles in “poor repair” rose from 14 to 20 percent.
The four states of Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and Tennessee scored best with only 7 percent or less roads in “poor repair”; while four states of California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island had the worst roads in “poor repair” at 34 percent or more.
The biggest single contributor to the deterioration of the U.S. infrastructure ratings between 2009 and 2017 was California, where the percentage of “poor repair” for its 394,383 lane miles rose from an already grim 32 percent to an abysmal 45 percent.
States tend to spend about one third of their total transportation budget on building new lane miles, a third on repair and a third on “other capital expenditures” that includes bridges, safety, engineering, traffic operations, and environmental enhancements.
California’s contribution to the U.S. increase in “poor repair” lane miles is somewhat due underfunding, with an average of just $3.9 billion in annual transportation spending between 2009-2017. But the real reason California won the prize for the largest number of lane miles in “poor repair” is due to spending almost half, 49 percent, of its transportation budget on “other capital spending.” Just 16 percent of California transportation spending went for new roads and 35 percent for road repairs.
As an example of California unique use of “other capital spending,” the Reform California movement found that 30 percent of the state’s transportation “Maintenance” Budget for San Diego County was being diverted to clean up homeless camps.
With President Trump and Congress beginning negotiations on an up to $2 trillion infrastructure spending bill, Transportation for America advocates for adopting a national “fix-it-first” formula to assure America’s infrastructure stays in good repair.”
Chriss Street is an economist and cofounder of the New California movement.