AASHTO Journal, 15 May 2015
The California Department of Transportation released a 10-year plan that projects it will need $80 billion to cope with current and future needs of the state highway system, but said the projected available revenue stream leaves a nearly $60 billion shortfall for that program.
“This funding shortfall presents a serious challenge to Caltrans and this state’s transportation system,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.
The department’s “2015 Ten-Year State Highway Operation and Protection Program Plan” outlines a strategy for improving roads, implementing major rehabilitation projects on the state highway system and supporting Caltrans’ sustainability goal for “long-lasting and smart mobility improvements.”
It says the agency will need about $8 billion a year for those improvements and preventative maintenance over the next decade, but projects an annual funding shortfall of $5.7 billion. So unless the state raises revenue to close that gap, Caltrans said, “the plan warns that the state highway system will deteriorate and necessitate much more expensive remedies in the future.”
Dougherty said Caltrans has “fix it first” mentality of putting transportation dollars where they can be most cost-effective, which means spending on preventative maintenance to our existing infrastructure. But he warned that California has a growing backlog of repair projects, and so is facing much more expensive repairs to its infrastructure in the future.
Right now, the state’s main source of maintenance and operation funds for Caltrans comes from excise fee on gasoline and diesel fuel. But more energy-efficient vehicles and rising sales of alternative-fuel models is cutting consumption of the traditional motor fuels, Caltrans said, so the state is evaluating options that could raise the gas tax or vehicle fees, or switching to a mileage-based fee structure.
Caltrans said its “highway operation and protection program” primarily funds rehab projects and capital improvements along the state highway system that do not add system capacity to the system. Those include pavement and bridge rehab, plus safety and some types of mobility improvements.
The department’ maintenance program works on preventative maintenance and repair of the state highway system. Proper maintenance, it notes, can reduce the amount of more expensive rehab work.
Caltrans maintains more than 50,000 lane miles of the state highway system, with more than 13,000 bridges and structures, 30,000 acres of roadside landscaping, 205,000 culverts and drainage facilities and 87 roadside rest areas.
The agency said its infrastructure includes maintenance stations, equipment shops, traffic management centers, transportation materials laboratories and office buildings, much of which is more than 50 years old.