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The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

California's Rough Roads

Road conditions are another thing that California finds itself ranked near the bottom.

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    Sure is nice to have a smooth street.

    Correction: An earlier version of this story omitted the date of the study ranking California 49th of the 50 states in raod operating condition. The study was released in 2009.  

    If it seems like you've been taking your car to the repair shop for an alignment with increasing frequency, it doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad driver. 

    Chances are it's because of California's poorly maintained road system.

    It costs a lot to build roads in the nation's third largest state, geographically speaking, but it costs even more by not keeping them in good condition. That's the irony. While we're keeping our taxes down to minimize expenditures. we're paying more to keep our cars on the roads. A lot more.

    A 2009 study by the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials found that California roads rank 49th of the 50 states in operating condition. (Thank you, New Jersey, for saving us from last place!)

    California's poor roads stem from the unwillingness of policymakers and the public to fund construction and maintenance.

    According to the CQ Factbook, California ranks 47th per capita in transportation funding, $308 versus the national average of $536. 

    All this comes at a cost few of us care to recognize or appreciate. The Road Information Program (TRIP), a nonprofit research organization dedicated to safe highway travel, calculates that poor roads cost the typical California driver $590 annually, nearly twice the national average of $335. In California's major cities, the cost per capita rises to more than $700 per year.

    When added up, the cost of poor road conditions to Californians totals $13.5 billion annually.

    That's more than twice as much as the funding shortfall cited by the state Department of Transportation. Imagine if the state collected enough taxes to pay for road maintenance, we would all be paying less in the long run. But not too many Californians think that way.

    Come to think of it, we pay an awful lot of money for electing not to spend money on California roads. Hmmm, what's that saying?  "Penny wise, pound foolish?" Maybe that should be the motto of the "not-so-golden state." 

    Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.

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