Saving Los Angeles' Streets

Wilshire Boulevard is Melting

Have you driven or ridden on Wilshire Boulevard lately? It's in bone-jarringly bad condition. The city has been thinking about repaving it for years now.

Here's what councilman Tom LaBonge has had to say about it:

As some wags have said, Los Angeles seems to wait until things get really horrible before acting: first huge signs, then marijuana dispensaries, then massage parlours, and now crumbling roads.

But wait, there's more!

Wilshire Boulevard is not alone; many of Los Angeles' streets are failing, and we can't find federal funding for them all. Even before the current recession and the city's current brush with bankruptcy, the city has been neglecting essential road repairs. According to the 2008 State of the (Los Angeles) Streets report, the city had been getting $15 million from the state each year, but needs to spend about $250 million each year to keep its 7000 miles of streets in good repair. As of 2008, there was a $2 billion backlog of work needed to bring city streets into good condition.

In 2009, the city reportedly increased its road maintentance budget... and then the fiscal crisis hit. The Bureau of Street Services had its budget decreased by 13%.

According to the 2010-2011 Budget Summary, the city takes in about $104 million each year in gas taxes. These go straight into a special fund that can only be used for fixing or building roads or rail lines.

So, assuming all $104 million goes towards roads, we're still $146 million short every year of what it takes to keep the roads going. Hence the killer potholes.

Measure R was supposed to pay for some major road resurfacing; about $100 million is allocated from that each year for "Major street resurfacing... left turn signals; bikeways; signal synchronization; and transit", county-wide. The City's share of that is about $40 million.

So, even taking Measure R into account, we're still at least $106 million short.

Here's a novel idea: let's pay for upkeep

I'm fed up enough that I'd gladly pay half a cent per mile I drive to fix the roads. And guess what? That's about what it would cost.

About 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline are sold each year in the City of Los Angeles (3.5 billion countywide). The entire city street maintenance budget, $250 million a year, could be financed by a 16 cent / gallon gas tax.

The State Board of Equalization's Pamphlet #59 explains (it'd have to be countywide, all the city and county councils would have to approve, it would have to go to the voters for majority approval, and the money so raised has to be spent in the ways approved by article 19 of the state constitution). (In particular, it says one has to spend a big part of the money in the Valley.)

Would voters funding street repair with a gas tax?

Councilman LaBonge doesn't think so... but it makes eminent sense to make drivers help pay for road upkeep, and a gasoline tax is a fair way to do this.

Plus, we already kind of do; that's the whole idea behind the existing gas tax. It's just not sized properly. The problem is, it was sized fine years ago, but it hasn't been adjusted for inflation, because everybody likes a smooth ride but nobody likes paying for it.

But there's no such thing as a free lunch. Judging by the stastics above, we're currently paying about six cents per gallon to the city. Raising this by a dime would get us to breakeven.

Are you tired of potholes? I thought so. Let's do it!

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Copyright 2010/2011, Dan Kegel