Most of us think little about our city’s streets. We worry about whether the car will start or whether we can get to the bus on time, but we rarely consider whether the surface we navigate is safe. You may want to reconsider.
I spent some time with Greg Scott, director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Maintenance. He has vast experience and knowledge. He inspires confidence. But as you begin to get a picture of L.A. street maintenance, it becomes clear that no matter what Scott does, he cannot solve the problems that fall on his shoulders.
The reason is that the City Council does not provide him with the funds to do his job. Actually, the council seems to be playing a game of Russian roulette with road maintenance and has been doing so for years.
The major roads we drive--Ventura Boulevard, for example--have an estimated life of 22 to 24 years. Side streets last longer, about 34 years. But construction, utility work and heavy vehicles cut useful lives by an average of about six years.
If you take the average life of streets as 25 years and divide it into the number of miles of streets in the city (6,500), you get the number of miles of resurfacing that should be done annually: 260. The City Council does not fund nearly that amount. In 1996 (not an atypical year), the bureau resurfaced 152 miles of streets. Over the last 18 years, an average of only 140 miles has been resurfaced annually.
Inadequate funding now means neglected roadways eventually will require work beyond normal maintenance. If only 54% of needed work is performed annually, it doesn’t take much to figure out that at some point we will have a major problem.
Scott said he needs an additional $100 million a year for the next 10 years, just to get even. Even discounting the penchant of bureaucrats to ask for more than they need, the figures are cause for great concern.
Let me paint a scenario: Streets continue to deteriorate. The amount of deferred maintenance becomes so massive that the bureau can no longer keep up. The City Council says that the only way to correct the problem is to vote in a $2-billion bond initiative. The frightened public approves it.
This is exactly what happened with the schools. The budget was bled by excessive salaries and waste. Not only did the school board neglect buildings, they could not even buy books. They scared the public into approving a bond initiative without committing to improvements in day-to-day operations.
We can stop this from happening again. We need to demand that the City Council stop its irresponsible neglect of public thoroughfares and commit enough funds to keep streets properly maintained. We can pay the price now--or we can pay a much higher price later.