Region's potholes jolt wallets

It is now official: The pothole-pocked pavements of San Francisco and San Mateo counties are not merely annoying to drive over. Their jolting also costs you an average of $761 more per year than motorists on better-maintained roadways spend for repairs and gasoline.

The Bay Area ranks No. 2 nationally both for out-of-pocket pothole expenses and for greatest amount of bumpy roads, with 62 percent rated inadequate. Only car-addicted Los Angeles is slightly ahead of us. Incidentally, California has five of the top eight worst pothole rankings. San Jose is No. 4, trailed by San Diego and Sacramento.

An explosive increase of urban traffic is piling up stress on American roads. California’s vehicle travel rose 27 percent between 1990 and 2005 and is expected to climb another 25 percent by 2020, according to a new national report by TRIP, which is the full name of a Washington, D.C., transportation think-tank.

The cost to repair roads is less than the money it costs drivers in annual car repairs, a TRIP spokesman stated. Even while substandard pavement slows down your commute, it is hastening your vehicle’s deterioration.

Deferred maintenance tends to be a universal budgetary quick-fix at all levels of government. It almost always seems too easy a temptation to spend scarce revenues on flashy voter-pleasing projects instead of funding repetitive repair work on streets or other infrastructure.

Right now a $3.2 billion deficit is projected for the 2009 repair account of the Federal Highway Trust Fund unless Congress decides to vote for emergency funding. San Francisco has historically been a major player in shortchanging infrastructure repairs, which is why The City’s Public Utilities Commission must now struggle through a multibillion-dollar program to strengthen the regional Hetch Hetchy water system before it falls apart from old age.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which administers Bay Area distribution of state and federal funding, is forecasting a $17 billion shortfall for overall repairs of Bay Area streets and roads in the next 25 years, which does not even include state-maintained highways. The City will be short $1.3 billion and San Mateo County $1.5 billion.

And the longer such repairs are delayed, the costlier they become. With steadily rising costs for materials and labor, the MTC estimates that it can cost as much as five times more to repair excessively deteriorated roads than regular maintenance would have required.

The MTC is in the process of preparing its latest 25-year Bay Area transportation plan. Titled “Transportation 2030,” the plan will attempt to deal with road repair issues among other looming problems. There is no quick remedy for chronic infrastructure funding shortfalls, but the obvious cost advantages of consistent roadway maintenance make it vital for the MTC to focus on pavement repair as a top priority.

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