Audit: L.A Streets Are Awful and Repair Efforts Are Mismanaged

Friday, August 01, 2014

The same week an exploding water main made Los Angeles residents dramatically aware of the expensive problems lurking beneath their streets, a new report (pdf) from the city controller’s office made clear the equally expensive ones that lie above ground.

The L.A. Bureau of Street Services audit, released Thursday, said the worst streets in the city, which make up 40% of 6,500 miles of public roadway, have been left to deteriorate while the 18% of roads with fewer problems have received attention. The report said that auditors had trouble reaching those conclusions because “a great deal of information about the Bureau’s activities is incomplete or simply missing.”

Specifically, the auditor could not find evidence to support the bureau’s claim that it had filled 953,339 potholes during the past three years. “In fact, auditors could not find completion reports or work evaluations for 60% of street paving projects,” the report said.

The bureau’s haphazard record-keeping cost the city a bundle. The bureau failed to collect $190 million in fees from utility companies that hacked into city streets to make repairs between 2010 and 2013 and returned $21 million in allocated funds it had failed to utilize in time.

City Controller Ron Galperin’s audit graded the quality of roads in the city, which the Los Angeles Times turned into a nifty interactive graphic. The controller’s office conjured up its own Control Panel for residents to check on the quality of their streets.

“Best Management Practices recommend that street system infrastructure be maintained at an average quality condition level of ‘B’ or better,” the report states. A street should never be worse than a “C.” Los Angeles roads average a “C minus.” Twenty-one percent rate an “A,” which, unlike school, refers to a “good” score rather than “excellent.”

Twenty-three percent receive a “B” for “satisfactory,” 17.7% get a “C” for being “fair,” 13.2% receive a “D” (“poor”) and 24.9% “failed” with an “F.”

 The report makes note of a national study of urban street conditions that uses a different criteria for rating roads. TRIP, a nonprofit transportation research group, puts Los Angeles atop the list of cities with more than 500,000 residents based on how awful their streets are.

In general, 64% of L.A. streets are rated “poor,” 26% “mediocre,” 5% “fair” and 5% “good.” That compares unfavorably to Houston, (25% poor, 31% mediocre, 25% fair and 19% good, respectively) and Atlanta (1%, 35%, 5% and 59%).

In fact, Los Angeles compares unfavorably to everyone. L.A. edges out San Francisco (60% “poor”),  San Jose (56%) and San Diego (55%) before cities from other states appear. Tucson (53%) is the worst, followed by New York-Newark (51%), Bridgeport-Stamford (51%), Milwaukee (48%), New Orleans (47%) and Oklahoma City (47%).

Besides squandering taxpayer money, the report found, the bureau’s mismanagement was costing residents an average $832 a year in car maintenance and repairs. That compared unfavorably to $567 in Chicago, $506 in Houston, $283 in Raleigh, North Carolina, $254 in Nashville and $201 in Atlanta.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Audit Exposes Management Failures at L.A.'s Bureau of Street Services (by Emily Alpert Reyes and Ben Poston, Los Angeles Times)

New Audit Points Out Cracks in LA Plan for Street Paving and Pothole Repair (by Shirley Jahad, KPCC)

Why L.A.'s Streets Are So Bad, and What We Can Do About It (L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, Los Angeles Times Op-Ed)

L.A. Streets: Road to the Future (Los Angeles City Controller) (pdf)

Leave a comment