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Will a big jump in California gas prices be worth it for smoother roads, fewer potholes?

See how much California’s gas tax will rise through 2020

Increases to California's gas tax were approved in 2017 and will continue for years.
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Increases to California's gas tax were approved in 2017 and will continue for years.

There’s a new gasoline tax that drivers will see at fuel pumps starting Nov. 1, and state and local transportation officials already have big plans for catching up on much-needed road repairs in Fresno County and around the state.

A stretch of Highway 99 from downtown Fresno to a mile north of the San Joaquin River in Madera County is in line for $5.2 million to repair and resurface the freeway – one of the most visible components of work to be funded by SB 1, a bill that adds 12 cents per gallon to the price of a gallon of gasoline. SB 1, approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year, also raises the tax on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon, and owners of electric cars will pay an additional $100 as part of their annual vehicle license fees beginning with the 2020 model year.

The new taxes are expected to provide about $54 billion – or a little more than $5 billion each year – over the next 10 years for road repairs on which Caltrans and local public works crews have fallen behind, including pavement resurfacing and pothole repairs on state highways and local roads, as well as backlogged maintenance on bridges and overpasses. Half of the money is going to Caltrans for state highway projects, and the other half is for cities and counties across the state to help catch up on their road work.

What drivers are going to see is smoother pavement. You’re not going to see the potholes we see now.

Laurie Berman, acting chief deputy director of Caltrans

“What drivers are going to see is smoother pavement,” said Laurie Berman, acting chief deputy director of Caltrans. She joined other state and local officials for a news conference Tuesday along Highway 99 at Shaw Avenue. “You’re not going to see the potholes we see now.”

Marco Sanchez, manager for the State Highway Operations and Protection Program (SHOPP) at Caltrans’ District 6 office in Fresno, said Highway 99 represents the state route in greatest need of maintenance in Fresno County. “Thirty percent of the vehicles on it is truck traffic, so it takes a pounding,” he said.

gas tax
Several road maintenance projects in the Fresno-Clovis area will benefit from a new gas tax that takes effect on Nov. 1. TIM SHEEHAN tsheehan@fresnobee.com

The freeway work is scheduled to begin next summer and be finished in the winter of 2018. In Caltrans District 6, which includes Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, nearly $422 million in road work is planned in 2017-18 on state highways 41, 46, 58, 63, 99, 168, 180, 198, Interstate 5 and others.

City and county public works departments in the five counties are in line to get an extra $1.4 billion for repairs to local streets and roads over the next 10 years. Of that, $517 million is coming to Fresno County and its cities, including $148.6 million in the city of Fresno.

But for California and Valley drivers who have seen gasoline prices seesaw up and down in recent years, the taxes represent another bite from the pocketbook.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders of the Legislature have reached a $5.2 billion-a-year road-funding pact that would raise gas taxes, registration fees and add other charges, as well as include a constitutional amendment to restri

“Californians are fairly resilient and they’re used to paying some of the nation’s highest gas prices already,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, an online fuel-price tracking firm.

The 12-cent increase on gasoline probably won’t affect most people yet because gas prices are generally low, DeHaan said. The state average for a gallon of gas Tuesday morning was $3.02, which is “a far cry from the $3.50 to $4 range that prices were from 2011 to 2014,” he added.

Truckers are more likely to feel a pinch with the excise tax in diesel increasing by 20 cents a gallon and the diesel sales tax going up 4 percent. Delivery companies may raise fuel surcharges, which could trickle down to retailers and cause the price of some goods to go up, DeHaan said.

5 fuel-saving tips

1. Compare gas stations. Prices have gotten lower, but the differences between local stations have increased. “If consumers aren’t getting smart, there’s a larger potential they will overspend more than they have to,” said Patrick DeHaan, Gasbuddy’s head of petroleum analyst.

2. Drive slower. Driving 62 mph vs. 75 mph will reduce fuel consumption by about 15 percent.

3. Turn air conditioning off. The air conditioner forces the car engine to work more increasing fuel use by about 20 percent.

4. Avoid idling or waits longer than a minute. Restarting the car uses less fuel than letting it idle.

5. Look for gas-savings programs. Shop at participating supermarkets, like Vons, and earn rewards that allow you to save up to 20 cents per gallon of gas at partner stations. Or sign up for Pay with Gasbuddy, a debit card program. Swipe the card at participating gas stations and save 15 cents per gallon on your first fill up and five cents on every gallon after.

Source: Patrick DeHaan and Gasbuddy

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