• State's transportation investment deficit costs Californians $40 billion a year

    December 17, 2009

    Transportation California says new and reliable
    Funding sources could provide relief to motorists

    A report issued today by a Washington-based transportation think tank demonstrates that California’s decades of neglect of its transportation infrastructure amounts to an annual burden of $40 billion a year for the motoring public.

    TRIP, a national transportation research organization, estimates that roadways that lack desirable safety features, travel capacity and/or pavement in good condition cost the state’s drivers approximately $40 billion annually in traffic crashes, higher vehicle operating costs and congestion-related delays.

    “Even with the efforts of the governor and the legislature over the past several years, we still have a huge gap – which this report clearly shows – and it’s hitting the public where it hurts,” said Transportation California Executive Director Mark Watts.

    Despite the short-term boost from the federal stimulus program, California’s funding to improve and rehabilitate bridges and major roadways stands at $1.5 billion a year. Current needs average $5.5 billion a year. Transit needs are now $8.6 billion annually, but funding is $1.7 billion a year.

    “We are short nearly $11 billion annually to meet our transportation needs,” Watts said. “This report shows that our failure to close this transportation investment deficit is costing us nearly four times that much.”

    Safety, congestion and road conditions are an issue in every part of the state. In “Future Mobility in California,” TRIP documents that 68 percent of California’s urban highways are congested, and vehicle travel is expected to increase by another 20 percent by 2025. The statewide cost of congestion, according to TRIP, is $18.7 billion annually.

    TRIP also reports that California has the second highest share of roads in poor condition in the nation – 35 percent. (New Jersey is No. 1.) The extra vehicle operating costs created by these poor roads totals $13.5 billion annually in California. In addition, 29 percent of the state’s bridges and overpasses need significant repair or rehabilitation.

    The traffic fatality rate on the state’s non-Interstate rural roads is more than three times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads and highways in the state. Roadway characteristics – such as lane width, lighting, signage, guardrails, paved shoulders, rumble strips and other features – can reduce the number of serious traffic crashes. According to TRIP, the cost of serious traffic crashes in which roadway characteristics were a contributing factor was approximately $7.6 billion in California in 2008.

    Watts pointed out that voters in counties up and down the state have voted to approve local sales tax measures to support transportation. “The evidence is there that voters want to see transportation improvements and are willing to pay for them. Those local expenditures, coupled with state programs and the federal stimulus program, are producing some positive results, but they amount to far less than we need to right the system,” he said.

    The rising cost of construction materials has eroded the buying power of the gasoline tax, which is the primary source of funding for California’s safety and rehabilitation programs. The price of key materials used in highway construction increased by 33 percent between October 2004 and October 2009.

    “A robust federal transportation package and a new and reliable state revenue source are essential to provide relief to the motoring public,” Watts said.

    The current federal transportation program was extended to December 18. Congress will need to authorize a new federal surface transportation program or extend the current program to allow federal highway dollars to continue to be provided to the states.

    Report available here.