We love our cars in California. In many large American cities the masses rely on transportation like buses and rail lines. One look at your typical metropolitan freeway in California (especially at rush hour) and you'll see that Californians clearly prefer the independence of having their own wheels.
You can thank President Eisenhower for the interstates we drive on. In 1956 he signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law. With that construction began on 41,000 miles of interstate highways. To pay for all of those new roadways, 90 percent of the money came from a federal trust fund while the states had to cover the remaining 10 percent. What a difference 54 years makes.
In a new report by the nationally known transportation research group TRIP, highways in some of California's major urban areas have been rated among the worst in the U.S. San Jose, Los Angeles, Concord, San Fransisco/Oakland, San Diego and Indio/Palm Springs take 6 slots in the nation's top 10 worst.
The study concludes that the average American motorist pays $402 each year in additional operating costs as a result of driving on roads in disrepair. Compare that dollar figure to California where the average is between $600 and $756. Those numbers are based on the costs of accelerated vehicle deterioration and depreciation which increases the frequency of necessary maintenance and additional fuel consumption.
Bert Sandman is the Executive Director of Transportation California. He points out that Transportation funding isn't keeping up with the state of roadway deterioration. "Despite the best efforts of Caltrans and local transportation agencies, it's difficult to keep up with the maintenance and rehabilitation, much less accommodate relentless traffic and population growth given tight federal, state, and local funding".
But could the deteriorating roadways be the key to an economic shot in the arm for the state?
A 2007 analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support 27,800 jobs. Another 14,000 jobs would be created outside of the construction sector.
The report also points out that state transportation funding is threatened by the continual fiscal crisis in state budgets. Like California's.
California has six major areas whose highways rank within the top 10 worst in the nation. Potholes and roads in disrepair need help. Help that comes in the form of jobs. Jobs put people back to work where they can make money. Money in circulation helps the economy.
So how much would it cost to get California's infrastructure up to par? That number is a moving target but most estimates put it well over $1 billion. Don't count on the Feds. Congress is still deliberating over a long-range federal surface transportation program. That could take a while.
In Sacramento neither side of the isle can agree on a budget that's now almost 3 months overdue. Add to that the $19 billion dollar note that has the bank knocking on the door and it's hard to believe the state will come through anytime soon.
For now California motorists might want to invest in good shocks and struts.