Bad TRIP Report: Lousy, Congested Roads Cost Californians $44 Billion a Year

Friday, October 03, 2014


California’s crummy roads and highways are not a secret.

Last October, The Road Information Program (TRIP) listed four of the state’s cities among the nation’s six worst for road conditions in large urban areas. The cost to drivers was in the billions.

The report (pdf) did not spur a nationwide movement to improve roads, which probably didn’t surprise San Jose Transportation Director Hans Larsen, who had some skeptical words for the Mercury News after another TRIP report (pdf) last week calculated that crappy roads cost Californians $44 billion a year.

“It’s yet another wake-up call to get up and do something or to keep hitting the snooze button,” Larsen said. Californians enjoy their sleep.

TRIP calculated the $44 billion by adding up average additional vehicle operating costs (VOC), congested-related delays and traffic crashes resulting from deteriorating roads. For purposes of the study, 34% of major roads and highways were rated in poor condition, 41% in mediocre or fair shape and 25% good. Twenty-eight percent of bridges were rated “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

The report painted its statistical portrait of California road decay using five metropolitan areas. Los Angeles motorists paid the highest price, $2,458 a year extra, for the privilege of gracing the area’s roads. Congestion was the biggest cost, $1,300, followed by vehicle operating costs of $955 and $203 for safety. The San-Francisco-Oakland area was second ($2,206), followed by San Diego ($1,886), San Jose ($1,723) and Sacramento ($1,543).

Overall, congestion cost motorists $20.4 billion, compared to $17 billion for VOC and $6.6 billion for safety.

Los Angeles had the worst roads, by far. Sixty-five percent were rated poor, 24% mediocre, 6% fair and 5% good. Sacramento had the least crummy roads. Thirty-one percent were rated poor, 31% mediocre, 9% fair and 29% good. Only one of the other five metropolitan areas, San Jose (21%), had more than 15% good roads.

Los Angeles also topped the congestion ratings, which factored in money lost to wasted time and fuel. The report calculated that L.A. and San Francisco-Oakland motorists each lost, on average, 61 hours a year, although it probably wouldn’t be hard to find drivers who swear they lose that much every month. Sacramento motorists fared the best, flitting about carefree, while losing just 32 hours.

Since California hit the snooze button sometime in the 1970s, it’s doubtful those numbers are going to get better anytime soon. Vehicle miles driven by Californians increased 26% between 1990 and 2012 and are expected to increase another 20% by 2030.

Lousy and congested roads are as bad for business as they are for residents. More than $2.6 trillion in goods are shipped, mostly by truck, along California roads, according to TRIP. The report cites figures from the Federal Highway Administration that show “each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions.”

The report concludes that not a whole lot will be done about the roads without a “substantial boost” in current local, state and federal funding levels. That’s a decision government officials will probably have to sleep on.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Report: Bad Roads Cost Californians Billions (by Justin Pritchard, Associated Press)

Bad Roads, Congested Commutes Cost State Drivers $44 Billion a Year, Report Says (by Gary Richards, San Jose Mercury News)

California Dominates Lists of Nation’s Worst Roads in Urban Areas (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

California Transportation by the Numbers (TRIP) (pdf)

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