About 25% of Fresno's major thoroughfares and highways are considered to be in "poor" condition, costing drivers hundreds of dollars more each year in increased wear and tear on their vehicles.
That might not sound like much to brag about, but a report released last week by transportation experts shows that it's considerably better than most of California's other large cities.
TRIP, a Washington, D.C.- based transportation research group, reported that in 2011, about 27% of the nation's major urban roads such as interstates, highways and arterial streets are deteriorated into substandard condition, resulting in "an unacceptably rough ride" for drivers.
It's worse in California. Among 75 urban areas with 500,000 or more people, California cities held the unfortunate distinction of having the top four metro areas with the highest proportion of roadways in disrepair, led by Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana, where 64% of major roads were in serious disrepair.
The Fresno/Clovis urban area was ninth among the 11 large California cities and 40th nationally. No other central San Joaquin Valley cities were included in the report.
Bad roads end up costing drivers extra money — to the tune of $80 billion a year, the TRIP report estimated.
"One result of driving on these rough roads is that the cost to own and maintain a vehicle increases because cars and trucks wear out more quickly, require more maintenance and consume more fuel," the report states. The national average added cost per driver is $377 a year.
In Fresno, the added average cost for a driver to roll on poor roads is estimated at $456 per year. In Los Angeles, home to the highest proportion of bad roads, the estimated cost is an extra $832 per year.
"Those figures reflect how much less drivers in those cities would spend, on average, if all of the roads were smooth," said Frank Moretti, TRIP's director of policy and research.
The report is based on pavement-condition data from the Federal Highway Administration, and covers all major arterial routes, including highways and freeways and substantial city streets with two or more lanes in each direction. It does not include smaller residential streets or rural roads. "Generally, if you're on a major street with stoplights, you're on an arterial" that's included in the estimates, Moretti said.
Roads rated in poor shape "often show significant signs of pavement wear and deterioration and may also have significant distress in their underlying foundation," the report states. Such roads may need resurfacing or reconstruction.
In addition to the 25% of Fresno roadways that are considered poor, another 31% are rated mediocre and 11% in fair condition — showing signs of deterioration but able to be improved to good condition through resurfacing. About 33% of Fresno roads were rated in good condition.
"This study shows that we're keeping up with our population growth and keeping roads in pretty good shape," said Rose Willems, a spokeswoman for the Fresno County Transportation Authority.
Willems credited Measure C, the county's half-cent sales tax for road-improvement projects, for Fresno's relatively low rate of poor roadways.
"We voted for Measure C in 1986, and we've been able to improve roadway conditions since we started collecting the tax in 1987," she said. "We've been able to build more than 15 new miles of freeway, and each of the 15 cities in the county is able to use its share of Measure C dollars to improve their local roadways, too."
Measure C generated about $22.7 million in 2010-11, and about $21.1 million in 2009-10. Over its first 20 years, Measure C money was combined with state and federal money to build more than $1 billion worth of new roads, Willems said.
The TRIP study cited a 2010 report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Transportation that federal, state and local government agencies spend a combined $36.5 billion each year on roads.
But the DOT estimated that the money needed just to maintain roads in their current condition is $44.3 billion annually, or $55.2 billion each year "to make a modest improvement in the condition of the nation's roads and highways."
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