More has amounted to less for California taxpayers who are paying a massive gas tax increase targeted for the state’s infrastructure, according to a new report.
High-tax California adopted a 12 cents-per-gallon gas tax increase in 2017. The money raised by Senate Bill 1 was earmarked to repair roads and bridges, the Los Angeles Times reported. Another 5.6 cents-per-gallon hike will take effect July 1.
But while drivers shell out more and more, Federal Highway Administration figures quoted by the Times show deterioration is getting worse instead of better.
Over the past three years, the federal figures show that the number of bridges in poor condition increased from 1,204 to 1,812.
Meanwhile, there was a drop in the number of bridges rated as good, from 16,788 to 14,779.
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Bridges can be owned by the state, cities or counties. Among state-owned bridges, those in good condition dropped from 75 percent in the year SB 1 was passed to 62.2 percent.
“I’m concerned and disappointed at the pace of repairs,” said Republican state assemblyman Vince Fong, who is also the vice chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “Californians are rightfully upset.”
An official with Caltrans, the state agency overseeing the state’s transportation grid, said projects take time.
“Due to normal wear and tear on our system, and the gradual and methodical inspection procedures, these reports will not instantaneously reflect the historic and crucial investment of SB 1 funding into our state highway system,” Lindsey Hart, a Caltrans spokeswoman, said.
The state said 89 bridges have been repaired or replaced, with $121 million spent on the projects.
But Fong said legislative Democrats rejected reforms, such as streamlined environmental reviews, that could have moved projects along faster.
“When we debated SB 1, one of our biggest arguments was we need real structural reforms to fast track the use of transportation dollars to build infrastructure,” he said.
Hart said safety for drivers has not been compromised.
“It’s important to note that a bridge with a poor or fair rating does not mean the bridge is unsafe. Any bridge deemed unsafe for travel is closed to traffic immediately. Ratings of poor or fair are often a reflection of the bridge’s age and mean the bridge requires additional maintenance and repairs,” she said.
Bridges are rated poor when they need repairs or other actions to keep them from being unsafe. A fair rating means there are deteriorating conditions that must be addressed with preventive maintenance.
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Hart noted that the money has been allocated for purposes other than bridge repair. The state has fixed 2,900 potholes, and it has fixed or replaced more than 1,300 miles of pavement, as well as made repairs to guardrails, streetlights and traffic signals.
The money has also become a political pawn, as noted by The Sacramento Bee.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has threatened to withhold SB 1 money from cities that don’t meet standards for increasing affordable housing.
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