Road to repair pocked with deficits

The City needs a quarter of a billion dollars in the next decade just to keep San Francisco’s pothole-riddled roads from getting worse.

The $249 million will not help improve any of the sinking streets in the Tenderloin or the gaping holes along Divisadero Street; it will simply “keep the average poor street conditions from deteriorating further,” Department of Public Works Director Ed Reiskin said in a September memo to Mayor Gavin Newsom.

San Francisco had failed for years to sink adequate funding into its infrastructure, but recently has attempted to reverse the trend. In order to do that, The City was forced to use “one-time” revenues, such as borrowing and federal stimulus dollars. However, future funding is critical, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, because “major repairs cost five to 10 times more than routine maintenance; these streets are at an especially critical stage,” the agency says.

The latest warning about funds needed to improve The City’s long-ignored infrastructure comes as the pot of money available for capital funding is ever-shrinking. The City closed a more than $500 million deficit to start the fiscal year, which began July 1, and it is already projecting a deficit of more than $350 million for the next fiscal year.

An array of revenue options is under consideration by The City to generate enough money to at least keep the overall condition of the streets at their current Pavement Condition Index rating of 64. That rating — considered “fair” on a scale of 50 to 85 — means streets are wearing out and at the point where repairs are necessary to “prevent rapid deterioration,” according to the MTC.

Revenue options include asking voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase to generate up to $36 million annually, or ask them to approve a mandate that The City allocate from the operating budget up to $40 million annually for streets.

The City’s Capital Planning Committee is expected to discuss the funding problem and possible solutions today. That committee oversees San Francisco’s overall long-range capital plan and recommends funding priorities for The City’s budget.

It’s unclear exactly how Newsom plans to address this need.

“Street repair is one of our top priorities,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said Friday. “But money is tight and we are going to do everything we can to meet our goals.”

Ballard ruled out a sales tax.

“The mayor is always open to argument, but right now is not the time to place additional burdens on consumers,” he said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

Troubled streets

During the next 10 years

  • City needs $491M to maintain streets, which on average are in “poor” condition
  • City projects only $242M for street resurfacing
  • City needs at least $249M

Facts about city’s streets

  • With no other funding, S.F.’s road rating will fall from 64 to 55 by 2015
  • $439M backlog of repairs needed on 6,314 of The City’s worst street segments

Funding options under consideration

  • Voter-approved set-aside: Commit $24.9M annually of S.F.’s operating budget for 10 years to maintain streets in current condition, or up to $40M to improve condition of streets
  • Local sales tax: A new quarter-cent sales tax solely dedicated to local streets would generate up to $36M annually

Source: Ed Reiskin, Department of Public Works director

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