By Matt Machado, Director of Public Works in Stanislaus County.
The State gas tax has been a declining source of revenue to maintain roads and bridges in California since it was last increased in 1994. We have lost approximately 50 percent of the buying power of the fuel tax due to the fact that it has not kept up with inflation and advancements in fuel efficiency. Even more drastic is the actual reduction of revenues in the past two years, amounting to an annual loss of more than 30 percent of the funds used to maintain roads and bridges in California. We are seeing this loss in dramatic fashion here in Stanislaus County.
Historically, we have resurfaced 75-100 miles of roadway per year in Stanislaus, but because of lack of funding, we have had to nearly eliminate all roadway resurfacing. In the past two years we have only resurfaced 3.5 miles on average per year. As a result, Stanislaus County roads are falling apart, with a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) in the 50s on a scale of 0 (failed)-100 (excellent). We have reduced pothole patching by 50 percent and substantially reduced bridge maintenance, shoulder maintenance, and striping maintenance.
If the State Legislature fails to pass a funding and reform solution it will cause even further damage next year and well into the future. The Stanislaus County Public Works Department will be forced to implement a massive reduction in staff to balance its budget. And I know we’re not alone. Counties and cities up and down the state have been deferring maintenance for years. Our roads and bridges are breaking down, and the result is that we will eventually have to pay far more to rebuild them than it would have cost to simply keep them well-maintained.
As citizens we depend upon our highways and roads every day. Without any doubt we as citizens will pay for them, either through damage to our own vehicles, delays in our schedules, or through litigation and claims against government. The better, proactive alternative would be to fund adequate maintenance to ensure a safe and reliable state and local transportation network. Our democracy puts this burden of choice on our state legislature, which, despite a widespread acknowledgement of the depth and breadth of the problem, has not been able to act on this critical issue.
Now, you may have heard that Stanislaus County just passed Measure L, a local sales tax increase to help fund transportation improvements. Several other counties had similar measures on the ballot, and many of them also passed. This will help, but Measure L does not provide the full answer. The State still needs to step up to the plate and complement our local actions. There is a small window of opportunity for that to happen.
The Special Legislative Session called by the Governor more than a year ago remains in effect through the end of this month. We have heard that the Legislative leadership, the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committee Chairs and the Governor’s Administration are talking about calling the Legislature back into session to vote on a transportation funding package that would address the funding shortage and include some common-sense reforms and guarantees to ensure the new revenue is spent wisely, and as intended, to fix our roads. I urge them to do so, because any further delay will only further increase the cost to do this necessary work.