Study shows California roads are among the worst in the country

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A study published last Thursday by the Reason Foundation shows that the condition of many types of roads in California has been steadily deteriorating over time — a trend reflected in Berkeley’s local roads.

Analyzing data from 1989 to 2008, the study examined seven different measures of highway conditions, including percentage of poor road conditions reported in both rural and urban areas, bridge conditions, fatal accident rates and narrow lane conditions by state and for the U.S. overall.

In 2008, 16.3 percent of rural interstates and 24.7 percent of urban interstates in California were reportedly in poor condition, a significant increase from 6.3 percent of rural and 4.1 percent of urban roads in poor condition in 1989.

In Berkeley, road and public infrastructure upkeep remains a substantial portion of the city’s unfunded liabilities. The city hopes that Measure M and other similar funding measures will help improve current street and watershed damage and prevent future repair and reconstruction costs from rising.

Measure M, a bond measure passed last November, will allocate $30 million of additional funding to the improvement of streets and watersheds over the next five years, following a plan created by the city’s Public Works Commission.

“If we don’t substantially improve these roads now, then the cost will be substantially higher later,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak.

A 2011 performance audit by City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan indicates that the current estimated cost of street repair in Berkeley is $54 million. However, if the city postpones road repairs, the projected cost by 2016 will increase to $70.8 million.

Postponing repairs could necessitate undergoing total reconstruction of damaged roads rather than smaller, more immediate repairs — costing almost 32 times as much, according to the audit.

“We need to devote resources to road repair,” Wozniak said. “As we have more and more people biking and sharing the roads, it’s more important to keep the roads in good condition.”

The situation is no different for the state. California ranked in the bottom tenth of state highway systems almost every year since 1989. Although bridge conditions and fatal accident rates have marginally improved, California failed to improve in five of the seven categories included in the study.

“If California wants to improve these ratings, then the state will need to focus on improving conditions in each of these categories,” said Gregory Fields, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate student who worked on the study, in an email. “California will need to refocus its goals towards system performance, add more money and resources to the pot to address highway needs, or accept a below average state highway system.”

Contact Jennie Yoon at [email protected]