Examiner Editorial: Bay Area roads are nation’s second worst

Listen up, Bay Area drivers: Our region’s highways are the second worst in the nation. That costs each of you an extra $2,032 a year from higher vehicle operating costs, crashes and congestion-related delays.

California also happens to be America’s second worst road-condition state. Only New Jersey, with 46 percent of its highways rated poor, is worse than California’s 35 percent. And only Los Angeles, at 64 percent, has more poor-condition roads than the Bay Area’s 61 percent.

Federal Highway Administration raw data is analyzed each year by TRIP, a national transportation research group, and it always makes us look bad. The Bay Area and California have been sinking for a long time. Our rankings don’t change much, but our percentages of bad roads get steadily worse.

When California used to be the Golden State envied by all, we were particularly applauded for our unbeatable public beaches, parks, schools and highways. Now, California has five of America’s 10 worst highway regions. Bay Area drivers crawl through significant rush hour delays on 75 percent of major local roadways, stuck in traffic for an average of 55 hours a year.

Vehicle crashes in 2008 took 225 lives on Bay Area roads. Nearly half the region’s bridges and overpasses are structurally deficient or obsolete.

The lowest-rated in San Francisco are Highway 101 over the Presidio viaduct and Third Street over China Basin.

The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission calls this spectacular deterioration the predictable result of nearly two generations of failure to invest sensibly in highway improvements. As Examiner readers know well, San Francisco and California have been front-runners in short-sighted deferred maintenance, and we have the broken pavement to prove it.

The dollar amounts reflecting how far behind we are on highway rehabilitation are daunting, especially at this time of crushing deficits at every political level. Despite a short-term $3.6 billion boost from the federal stimulus, California faces an annual surface transportation funding gap of $10.9 billion. The state will have $1.5 billion available this year to make needed improvements, but it requires an estimated $5.5 billion annually.

Perhaps the saddest part is that making needed repairs to the California’s transportation system would help boost the state’s struggling economy.

A 2007 analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction supports approximately 27,800 jobs. A well-functioning highway system is essential to statewide commerce.

Under present fiscal constraints, the best we can do is try to improve road conditions a little each year. And we must never allow our elected officials to foolishly let it get so bad again.

Maybe it’s time to experiment with adding some privately operated toll highways to the mix.

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