"There have been decades of under-investment in the state's highways," said Caltrans Director Will Kempton. "Not only are we not keeping pace with the need to expand the system, we are not taking care of the existing system."
Davis and Schwarzenegger both used money from state transportation funds to help balance their budgets and avoid tax increases. They siphoned roughly $8 billion from highway and mass-transit programs, bringing such projects to a near standstill. The money went to schools, medical care for the poor and elderly, prisons and other state programs.
Delay has proved costly. In recent years, construction costs have risen faster than inflation. Today, adding one carpool lane on the northbound 405 from the 10 Freeway to the 101 would cost about $1 billion. That's $100 million a mile.
The price of rebuilding 18 miles of the 710 Freeway and adding truck lanes would be at least $6 billion. And a 12-mile tunnel through the Santa Ana Mountains to better link Riverside and Orange counties could cost $8 billion or more.
Inflation and steady improvements in the fuel efficiency of new cars have made the state and federal gasoline tax less valuable as a source of revenue. Adjusted for inflation, state officials estimate that gas-tax money available for spending on highways was lower in 2006 than in 1994.
Looking for ways to boost spending without raising taxes, Schwarzenegger two years ago proposed the biggest transportation bond package in state history, a $20-billion measure, aimed mostly at roads.
The bond measure is intended to jump-start spending on highway projects, but it does not generate any new revenue to help pay for them. Instead, using bond funds simply means borrowing now and repaying later with interest. By the time the bonds are repaid, interest will have almost doubled the cost to an estimated $38.9 billion. That will put further demands on the state's general fund. In its most recent annual report to the Legislature, the California Transportation Commission, which oversees spending the bond money, described "the dismal shape of basic state transportation funding."
"We can barely afford half of the state's major rehabilitation needs," commissioners said.
For Reliford and tens of thousands of commuters like her, that means there is little likelihood that the daily commute will shorten soon.
"There is no improvement in sight," Reliford said. "You know there isn't going to be anything any time soon. . . . At the rate things are going, there's certainly going to be a time when I have to pull out."