As almost any Angeleno knows, the city’s streets are in terrible condition. In the last few years, the city has been trying to make some long-delayed progress on street repairs…but just as it may be getting some traction on the issue, the plans could be significantly derailed by the upcoming election.
Background on Street Repair in Los Angeles
It often seems like good streets get repaved regularly, but bumpy streets hardly ever do. Crazy, right? But there is a good reason – as City Council Member David Ryu told the Hancock Park Homeowners’ Association at its annual meeting in 2017, it’s simply more affordable to fix streets that are in fairly good condition. Fixing failed streets is much more expensive. In fact, because the Bureau of Street Services has a limited budget for street repairs, it has to triage streets, using a grading system called the Pavement Condition Index, to decide whether and how to fix them. (A map of the graded streets is available here.)
Here’s how the triage process usually works:
- Relatively new streets get “slurry sealed“; this very cost-effectively extends their life by about 7 years.
- Streets starting to wear out are resurfaced; this costs 8x as much as slurry, but extends life of residential streets by 20-25 years.
- Failed streets wait until there is money for reconstruction; this costs 3x as much as resurfacing, but brings them back to like new.
Also, because the City says concrete streets are more expensive to fix than those paved with asphalt, concrete streets – like many, if not most, of the streets in our historic local neighborhoods – are almost never repaired at all. (One exception: a pilot program in 2016, sponsored by City Council Member David Ryu, fixed some of the worst concrete streets in Hancock Park, and aimed to demonstrate that concrete could be repaired at a reasonable cost. The pilot came in under budget, and Ryu later introduced a motion requesting that the city study and report back on the feasibility of concrete street repairs. According to Ryu’s Communications Deputy, Mark Pampanin, the city’s Chief Legislative Analyst and City Administrative Officer are still still working on the report, but it could come back to the Council’s Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee “by the end of 2018.”)
But back to asphalt.
Of the city’s 24,000 lane-miles of roads, the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services estimates it has to slurry-seal 1200 lane-miles of asphalt streets, and resurface 800, every year to keep average pavement condition steady. Between about 1940 and 2011, BSS did not have the budget to keep up with that schedule, and 70 years of this neglect left streets in terrible shape. Around 2003, the city’s leaders took note, and began advocating for increased attention to the problem. By 2015, BSS funding had improved so much the agency won an industry award for Excellence in Pavement Preservation; and by 2018, average pavement condition had actually improved a bit. But most of the bad streets are still awaiting reconstruction, and they’re worse than ever.
One Step Forward…
In 2017-2018, Los Angeles finally allocated money to begin rebuilding streets, saying, “The City has been preparing for the possible implementation of a Street Reconstruction Program since 2014, when the Save Our Streets Los Angeles (SOSLA) report was issued….[but] funding for the reconstruction of streets was elusive until the recent passage of both the County transportation ballot measure (Measure M) and State legislation (SB1).” In the first year of using those new revenue streams, the goal was to start rebuilding 45 lane-miles (including a 7 mile stretch of Venice between Arlington and Figuroa) of high-risk roads in poor condition. $13 million for the project came from Measure M, and $12 million from SB1.
But this is only a tiny first step, and a little bit less than one percent of the work outlined by the Save Our Streets plan. The city has about ten years left before it hosts the 2028 Olympic Games, which could provide a target date for completion, and as CurbedLA reported back in February, City Council Members Joe Buscaino and Mitch Englander have asked the city analyst to report on possible funding options for further repairs, which could include issuing a bond secured by future Measure M and SB1 revenues.
…and a Possible Bigger Step Back
But there is a potential wrench in those plans…and it’s called Proposition 6.
Prop. 6 “Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding” and “Requires certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees be approved by the electorate.” In other words, if Prop. 6 passes on November 6, SB1 funds would disappear and there would be no further SB1 revenues for street repairs or other projects. Existing SB1 projects across the state (including LA Metro projects) would grind to a halt…and every city and county in the state would have to pay back all SB1 revenue received so far. And that means Los Angeles would have to scramble to find another source of funding to meet its street repair needs.
According to California’s Official Voter Guide, regarding Proposition 6:
“A YES vote on this measure means: Fuel and vehicle taxes recently passed by the Legislature would be eliminated, which would reduce funding for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs. The Legislature would be required to get a majority of voters to approve new or increased state fuel and vehicle taxes in the future.
NO A NO vote on this measure means: Fuel and vehicle taxes recently passed by the Legislature would continue to be in effect and pay for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs. The Legislature would continue not to need voter approval for new or increased state fuel and vehicle taxes in the future.
PRO: VOTE YES ON 6 to immediately LOWER GAS PRICES. Californians are struggling with the high cost of living. VOTE YES on Proposition 6 to repeal the unfair regressive gas and car tax increase and require voter approval for any future increase. VOTE YES on Prop. 6 for lower gas prices!
CON: California Professional Firefighters, California Association of Highway Patrolmen, American Society of Civil Engineers and first responders URGE NO on Proposition 6 because it jeopardizes the safety of bridges and roads. Prop. 6 eliminates $5 billion annually in local transportation funding, stopping thousands of road safety, congestion relief and transportation improvement projects in every California community.”
In short, Prop 6 supporters say that making drivers pay to fix the state’s roads, bridges, and transit systems is unfair…while Prop 6 opponents say the measure would make those same roads and bridges less safe and jeopardize or eliminate both needed repair efforts and other necessary transportation projects.
Proponents of Prop 6 include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association and a number of other anti-tax groups…while opponents include a large coalition of government, public interest, environmental, public health, social justice, and business groups. (See the links for the full lists of endorsements on both sides.)
For more on this topic, see:
- KPCC’s Voter Game Plan
- League of California Cities: “California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment”, saveourstreets.org
- The Los Angeles Times 2013 article “L.A. full of roads to ruin for cars” and interactive map of pavement quality
- LABSS’s current Street Assessment Map shows pavement quality and scheduled/performed resurfacing work (try it!)
And don’t forget to vote on Nov. 6!