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.”
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