Valley elected representatives and transportation officials are hopeful that lawmakers in Sacramento will be able to pass legislation in the next two weeks to make a dent in backlogged repairs on the region’s highways and roads.
Flanked by workers from various construction trade unions at a Friday press conference in front of the state Department of Transportation’s office in Fresno, the leaders urged Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to pass a bill that would increase fuel taxes to raise billions of dollars for road maintenance.
“These leaders have said they will work to pass a transportation funding bill … and we are here to hold them to that promise,” Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria told reporters.
California’s current excise tax on gasoline is under 28 cents per gallon, and the excise tax on diesel fuel is 16 cents per gallon. But Sherri Bender Ehlert, director of Caltrans District 6 in Fresno, said revenue from fuel taxes have been shrinking in recent years because as vehicles become more fuel efficient, their drivers are buying less fuel.
If the winter of 2017 has taught us anything, it is that investment in regular day-to-day maintenance and upkeep (of roads) is critical.
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
The result, she said, is a growing backlog of highway maintenance statewide. “California needs to identify a stable, long-term source of funding or our roads will continue to deteriorate,” Ehlert said. In District 6, which covers the Valley from Kern County to Madera County, Caltrans has more than 183 pavement projects that have no identified funding.
In addition, this winter’s storms caused about $770 million in damage to roads across the state, on top of deferred maintenance.
“If the winter of 2017 has taught us anything, it is that investment in regular day-to-day maintenance and upkeep (of roads) is critical,” Soria said.
Soria said that while Fresno budgeted $14 million in 2016-17 for paving, the city’s needs were actually $22 million. And she estimated that the city has a backlog about $250 million in deferred street maintenance.
Kings County Supervisor Craig Pedersen said his area has amassed a backlog of repairs amounting to more than $52 million on its 942 miles of roads. “We expect that to balloon to $90 million in the next decade if nothing changes,” he added.
Inflation has taken a serious toll on the county’s ability to keep up with repairs. He cited the Avenal Cutoff, a major road spanning about 20 miles between Lemoore Naval Air Station and the southwestern Kings County community of Avenal.
“About 7,500 cars per day use this road and it is in desperate need of maintenance called an overlay,” Pedersen said. But in today’s costs, one mile of two-inch overlay across the 30-foot roadway costs about $450,000 – compared to about $270,000 a decade ago.
Officials added that the cost of maintaining roads earlier is far cheaper than rebuilding them later.
Caltrans’ Ehlert said one dollar of roadway repair work now saves about $6 in future reconstruction costs.
“Something that gets missed in all this is the multibillion-dollar investment we have in all of our pavement, our asphalt and concrete,” said Tony Boren, executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments. “If we don’t take care of it, we’ll have lost that investment.”