My View II: Does Davis Have the Worst Roads in the County?

Roads-Yolo
Map from Save California Streets shows Davis with worse roads than the other cities, but better than the county roads.

On Thursday the local paper published a story under the provocative headline, “It’s Official: Davis Has the Worst Roads in Yolo County.” My initial reaction is: you’re just figuring this out now? The Vanguard has been warning the public about the state of our roadways since 2009.

However, the headline actually got it wrong. The first line of the story makes that clear: “Davis roads rank the worst of any city in Yolo County, according to a new study by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties. Only roads specifically in Yolo County’s care proved worse.”

So, in point of fact, Yolo County has the worst roads in the county, Davis is only marginally worse than Woodland and West Sacramento. But even that might be a little misleading.

The story goes on to report, “The study shows that as a whole, Yolo County and its cities are ranked as ‘higher risk’ than other counties in the state, with $921 million needed across Yolo County during the next decade to rehabilitate bad roads, repair and replace bad bridges and maintain good roads.”

They add, “Davis is by far the worst city in Yolo County with a ‘higher risk’ ranking for a 51-60 pavement condition index (PCI). Anything under 71 is considered needing repair, and the closer to zero the rating gets, the worse the road.

“For comparison, West Sacramento had the best roads at a 71-100 rating, while Woodland and Winters scored higher than Davis with a 61-70 rating. Davis public works officials said in May 2013 that Davis roads had an average PCI of 62.”

As a whole, Yolo County had an aggregate PCI of 60, brought down by the county roads. That is below average for the state, which has an aggregate PCI of 66. There are 18 counties worse than Yolo County – most of them tending to be rural counties.

The report is a wakeup call, not just to Yolo County but to the state. As they noted, “The results are alarming. The condition of the system that makes up more than 80 percent of California’s roadways is on the path to failure. The biennial survey confirms pavement conditions are declining and finds that existing funding levels are insufficient to properly fix and/or maintain streets, roads, bridges, sidewalks, storm drains and traffic signs.”

They add, “Deferring this crucial work, the report predicts, will likely double the cost of repairs in the future, and impedes efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.”

The report notes, “California’s local street and road conditions continue to decline. The Needs Assessment uses a scale of zero (failed) to 100 (excellent) to rate pavement condition. Conditions have deteriorated since the first survey six years ago when the statewide average was 68. Today it’s dropped to 66, which falls into the at risk category. Of California’s 58 counties, an alarming 54 have streets and roads that are either at risk or ranked in poor condition. In 10 years, it is projected that 25 percent of local streets and roads will be ranked poor.”

Roads-California

But as Save California Streets points out, “This is not a California only problem – it’s a national crisis.” They continue, “At the federal level, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency. Federal gasoline taxes have not kept pace with inflation and rising construction costs. Nor has the system for charging road users been updated to account for alternative fuels and increasing fuel efficiency. The same is true for the state’s gasoline taxes. The base 18-cent excise tax, last adjusted in 1994, is now only worth 9-cents when adjusted for inflation and fuel efficiency.”

The Enterprise reports, “In Davis, the City Council voted in 2013 to pay $25 million toward road maintenance and repair over the next two years to avoid larger costs for maintenance later on. The more a road is allowed to deteriorate, it becomes exponentially more expensive to repair.

“The city will spend $2 million each year annually until 2033 to pay off the bonds. It also will spend $3 million annually on road maintenance after the 2014-15 fiscal year.”

This is not accurate.  While the city council did pass in concept a plan that calls for $25 million in the first two years and then additional spending thereafter, the funding has not been put in place for that and there is no allocation for $2 million to repay anything because there are no bonds that have been issued.

As we noted last week, the city has managed to set aside nearly $4 million per year to improve roadways while the council will look toward a parcel tax to fund the $25 million in upfront costs.

However, while there is no doubt that Davis has a need for money upfront to alleviate its deteriorating roadway conditions, the fact that Davis’ roads are worse than other Yolo County communities is probably an artifact of measurement issues rather than the reality on the ground.

A source familiar with the situation told the Vanguard this week that Davis’ roads appear worse because Davis has had very little development since 2000. Other cities have added many additional roads that are brand new.

Likely, older roads in Woodland and West Sacramento are comparable, if not worse than older roads in Davis. New development therefore will artificially increase the roadway conditions but increase the costs in the long run as they have more roadways to maintain.

We have criticized the city of Davis for its belated response to road conditions, but clearly Davis is not alone. Save California Streets notes, “Californians need to work together to find ways to fund local streets and roads, and push state and local governments to establish sustainable transportation revenues.”

But Davis cannot afford to wait until that money becomes available.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

32 Comments

  1. Anon

    IMO the nitpicking over whether the Davis Enterprise “got it wrong” sounds petty and mean spirited.  It comes across to me as if the Vanguard is a child with self-esteem problems.  Ultimately both the Davis Enterprise and the Vanguard rightly agree the state of the roads in Davis are terrible – even worse than the roads in Woodland and West Sac.  That is not a distinction Davis would wish to have.  It should be a wakeup call to Davis citizens (and to the county supervisors) that some sort of additional revenue is needed to fix this problem of road deterioration.  In the immediate future a parcel tax in the city of Davis is going to be needed; ultimately the hope is innovation parks will be the long term fiscal solution – if the innovation parks are done correctly.  The problem of the roads is not going to go away, but only get worse and grow exponentially in expense the longer the problem is put off.

    1. David Greenwald

      I am offended that you call this nitpicking. The paper wrote: “In Davis, the City Council voted in 2013 to pay $25 million toward road maintenance and repair over the next two years to avoid larger costs for maintenance later on. The more a road is allowed to deteriorate, it becomes exponentially more expensive to repair. The city will spend $2 million each year annually until 2033 to pay off the bonds. It also will spend $3 million annually on road maintenance after the 2014-15 fiscal year.”

      As a councilmember texted me yesterday, how did the paper get this so wrong? The council never authorized bonds, they are not spending two million a year to pay them back, they did not invest a big chunk of money on road repairs. At most they approved B-modified in concept. He got it totally and completely wrong.

      Twice in the last month the Vanguard ran stories showing where we got things wrong, it’s not mean-spirited to correct the public record and it is not nitpicking. I didn’t even call the reporter out by name.

      1. Anon

        Did you contact the reporter, and explain your concerns that he “got it wrong”? It would be more constructive than “blasting” the Enterprise for not being quite accurate in its reporting.

  2. Gunrocik

    It is amazing how this City Council has managed to keep its eye off the ball every since they came back from the summer break.  How about we stop worrying about the symbolic stuff Dan needs for his senate resume and we just focus on crumbling infrastructure instead?

    It may not be the politically smart thing, but it is the right thing!

     

    1. Frankly

      I agree with this comment, but I’m not sure how to connect it to road repair.  Are you saying that road repair is “eye off the ball”?   I think plastic bag bans, MRAP returns and sanctuary city votes… they are all “eye off the ball” and “enhance my good-liberal curricula vitea to advance my left-coast state political career”.  None of them do much for Davis except make the minority activist population feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

      1. Gunrocik

        Frankly, you did make the connection.  The eye is constantly off the ball–and we shouldn’t let them blather about MRAPs and plastic bags and woodsmoke and sanctuary status until they eat their vegetables!  (i.e. our unmet needs).  Let’s face it, this lack of focus is what got us in this mess in the first place.

        1. Robb Davis

          Not noted in any article by the Enterprise or the Vanguard was a discussion we had this week after the crowd went home.  In that discussion we talked about conducting an update to assessing the costs of building maintenance (replacement costs) for City-owned properties.  This is significant because if we are to assess the full needs of maintenance backlogs we need this assessment.  This assessment, as was noted during the (unreported) discussion, will also allow us to determine the amount of excess City property we may have so we can determine if/how to dispose of it–opening up some sites for redevelopment and reducing our need to maintain un-needed properties.

          With this assessment in hand we will be better prepared to determine how to establish a more robust reserve fund and more adequately budget for such needs and/or go to the voters with a request for a parcel tax to fund roads and critical city facility backlogs.  The reality is, we are set to spend over $4 million this year on street repairs and the commitments to higher levels are now built into future budgets.  So we are not exactly neglecting this challenging problem. We are also doing our due diligence on other needs so everyone will understand exactly what we are up against.

          I note all of this to demonstrate that, in fact, we are keeping our eyes on the ball and deepening our understanding of the full cost of city maintenance needs.  I realize that the Vanguard and the Enterprise like to focus on things like the MRAP and the Sanctuary City status but I can assure you that my colleagues and I spend most of our time interacting with staff, Commissions and various 2×2 committees on issues like the future of the Innovation Parks, making sure our budgets process is more streamlined and performance-based, assuring fuller understanding of our PERS and OPEB liabilities, laying out standards for community development block grants, collaborating with the County on improving broadband and services to homeless populations and dealing with the important relationship between our City and the University (all of these issues were on our plates just this past week).

          These are the issues we work on day to day and week to week.  Other issues come and go but these remain the focus and while citizens may not see movement on various things each week, we continue to work on moving them forward using our Commissions and a variety of citizen input processes.

          I would encourage all readers here to attend our public goal-setting exercise next week (Saturday November 15 starting at 9:00) where we provide guidance to our new city manager and staff on priorities.  I am fully confident that Dirk will take our input to craft carefully thought out work plans, with clear timelines and metrics that we will use to guide our processes in the year ahead.  By creating focus to our work we will further assure that key city priorities deserve the attention they require.

        2. Frankly

          Robb – Thanks for responding to this.  It is encouraging.

          Questions: is there an agenda for the 11/15 meeting?  Can the public come and go to attend certain topics?

        3. South of Davis

          Gunrocik wrote:

          > The eye is constantly off the ball–and we shouldn’t let them blather

          > about MRAPs and plastic bags and woodsmoke and sanctuary status

          > until they eat their vegetables!  (i.e. our unmet needs). 

          Just like politicians on the national level try and keep everyone focused on “gun control” and “gay marriage” while they figure out new ways to get money to their donors local politicians try and keep everyone focused on “bag bans” and if a “truck is a tank” while they figure out new ways to get money to their donors…

        4. Miwok

          Mr Davis:

          I am always amazed by cities and counties that do not have current information and must research and “update” numbers for what is an ongoing task of the various departments. If they do not have a list ready to hand you, why not?

          Projects should have progress reports available to you almost daily. If you have to hire “consultants” to find out, your people are not serving you well.

          Tim Gilbert

  3. Robb Davis

    Frankly – I have not seen the agenda yet but there will be at least one public comment time.  We are having an external facilitator who will guide us through the process.  I am very much looking forward to it as the facilitator has been spending time with each CC member and soliciting our input so as to lay a solid foundation for our discussions.

    1. Doby Fleeman

      Robb,
      Thanks again for all the time and energy you and your peers devote to the thorny issues.  In the end, however, there is the matter of priorities and resources. Hopefully your facilitator can help the Council in forging an agenda and a prioritizing methodology which devotes sufficient resources to deliver on the most pressing matters.

    2. Robb Davis

      This is a reply to Miwok (I could not reply to your reply).  The information being sought concerns a wide array of replacement costs for things such as HVACs, roofs, parking lots, siding, etc.  The assumptions being used to cost replacements are off and a new study to update them is what staff is having a consultant undertake.  I know that the housing cooperative where I lived had a complete “replacement cost” update done every few years because costs change and updating them is critical to budgeting and maintaining a healthy reserve fund.  I am not sure that I agree that staff should be doing this.  Even staff well versed in building maintenance lacks the time to keep updated on all elements of building replacement.  Relatively infrequent updates  by an outside firm to numbers to assist in budgeting projections does not seem unreasonable to me given my experience.  Davis has not done such an update for a number of years (over 5 if memory serves).

      1. Miwok

        Thank you, Mr Davis.

        I am used to having lists like this I can consult and update very quickly, and the “consultant” usually has conflicts of interest. An inventory of City assets should be available to you always and approximate values as well. IMO.

        Is everything like this outsourced?

        Tim G

        1. Robb Davis

          Tim (Please call me Robb) – I am not sure what you mean by “like this” but if you follow our calendar from meeting to meeting (please look especially at the “Consent Calendar”) you will get a taste for the kind of things we outsource.  I would say that, generally speaking, our staff does the routine maintenance and day to day planning and implementation of projects. Larger projects for which we don’t maintain staff (road reconstruction, major work like what has been going on at the tracks at 8th Street, large equipment jobs like generator installation, major pool repairs, and planning jobs like the Innovation Parks that require more staff time than we have, or technical jobs like the recent OPEB actuarial study) are outsourced.  Please follow over the coming months and offer an opinion about your thoughts on the frequency and amount of outsourcing.  I am comfortable having staff outsource the update on replacement cost items but we may differ on that point.

    1. South of Davis

      Gunrocik wrote:

      > Kudos to Robb for venturing into the blogosphere and adding a dose of transparency!

      I may not agree with Robb on everything but he has my support and I’m excited that he is reaching out and may inspire other true “public servants” in or community to step forward and spend some time to try and make our city a better place.

  4. Tia Will

    Robb

    I very much appreciate your input and providing some of the background on what happens after the “crowd goes home”. I like this enumeration with explanation so much that I am wondering since I know that it is a demand on the time of the members of the city council if in addition to the Mayor’s monthly column it would be possible for the remainder of the council to take turns putting out a synopsis along with brief update and or interpretation of just where we are with the issues that do not make the Vanguard and Enterprise “front page” ?

  5. Anon

    Robb Davis: “I can assure you that my colleagues and I spend most of our time interacting with staff, Commissions and various 2×2 committees on issues like the future of the Innovation Parks, making sure our budgets process is more streamlined and performance-based, assuring fuller understanding of our PERS and OPEB liabilities, laying out standards for community development block grants, collaborating with the County on improving broadband and services to homeless populations and dealing with the important relationship between our City and the University (all of these issues were on our plates just this past week).”

    Excellent!  Only time will tell if this City Council is going to be able to resolve our city’s critical budgetary issues and convince the public of the dire need for a parcel tax and what that parcel tax should include; as well as push for longer term fiscal solutions such as properly designed innovation parks.

  6. DavisBurns

    that discussion we talked about conducting an update to assessing the costs of building maintenance (replacement costs) for City-owned properties.  This is significant because if we are to assess the full needs of maintenance backlogs we need this assessment.  This assessment, as was noted during the (unreported) discussion, will also allow us to determine the amount of excess City property we may have so we can determine if/how to dispose of it–opening up some sites for redevelopment and reducing our need to maintain un-needed properties.

    Robb, I hope the quality of the assessment is more reliable than the recommendations the council got on street lights–it is Siemens doing this assessment, is it not?  Those lights were a bait and switch sales job–not one of the demos was the light they recommended the council buy.  It was a no bid contract which gives it a bad smell and makes me wonder about the relationship between Siemens and Leotek.  We should not be using Siemens to finance the remainder of the project; the remainder should be postponed. The technology is changing as fast as computers changed a decade ago.  Prices are falling and new options are becoming available.

    i would like to add that if our roads come in at around 62, some of our bike trails are more like 51.  I was on the bike trail beside Russell blvd today and it is in sad shape as are the ones running through the greenbelt north of Covell.   I have also seen a couple of different people in electric wheelchairs using our road instead of the side walks and I was really impressed by how many cracks, heaved pavement and broken pavement had to be circumvented.  It was like watching an obstacle course.

  7. DavisBurns

    I would encourage all readers here to attend our public goal-setting exercise next week (Saturday November 15 starting at 9:00) where we provide guidance to our new city manager and staff on priorities

    Is that 9 am in the council chambers?

  8. Gunrocik

    The big challenge with our bike paths is attempting to repair them while saving the shade trees adjacent to the paths.  There may be areas where if the tree people aren’t willing to lose some trees, we will have bike paths that can’t be repaired.

    Root barriers will not be enough in many cases.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for