Editorial: Help on way for Bay Area roads

Students who earn a 65 grade in an algebra test are at least still passing and will probably not need to repeat the semester. But, otherwise, a test-score of 65 is nothing to be particularly proud about. The newest annual “pavement quality report card” from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission gives Bay Area city and county roads a grade of 66, up just lightly from last year’s 64.

The small improvement over 2004 is welcome news. However, those barely passing mid-60s grades mean that just over half of Bay Area streets and thoroughfares are poor to adequate, showing cracks, potholes or other deterioration that will quickly get worse and cost more to repair if they are not fixed without delay.

Our newly recovering economy places more commuters and more trucks onto the roads, pounding on pavement that was largely neglected during a five-year statewide budgetary meltdown. In San Francisco alone, there is an estimated $380 million backlog in street repair and maintenance. The City’s new score is 65 and its annual costs for basic roadway upkeep is $36.5 million. The 2006-07 fiscal year is seeing the first full funding in a long time.

San Mateo County scores are mostly clustered in the mid-60s with a few 70s among the larger cities. Worst roads on the Peninsula are in wealthy, pastoral Hillsborough and the coastside’s relatively isolated Half Moon Bay, tied at 58.

The Peninsula also had two cities with “very good” rankings. Top grade of 82 went to Foster City, a post-World War II planned community with a good tax base and somewhat newer pavements than its neighbors. Runner-up was Colma, which also was rated “most improved” after its grade jumped from 47 to 78 last year because of extensive repaving along Mission Street-El Camino Real.

Last week’s passage of Propositions 1A and 1B willpump billions of much-needed dollars into statewide roadway upkeep and improvement, with some of the longest-awaited projects in San Francisco and the Peninsula supposedly promised to be high on the priority list.

This is good news indeed, both in terms of economic competitiveness and quality of life. Those of us who resided here during the dot-com boom at the century’s end still retain vividly unpleasant memories of seemingly nonstop gridlock during commute hours all the way from Marin County to San Jose. And constant highway tie-ups are certainly no attraction for businesses considering relocation or expansion in the pricey Bay Area.

Now it is time for the press and the public to keep watch that our elected representatives return to a policy of sensible annual spending on street maintenance to avoid future repetition of our present mediocre C+ roadway conditions — not to mention demanding that the Bay Area gets its fair share of newly increased state highway revenue.

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