Measure 2022: fix-it-first

The proposed transportation sales tax measure includes several paragraphs on fix-it-first. The concept is that our transportation network should be maintained in a state of good repair, and that existing infrastructure should be maintained before new stuff is built. It is clear that we are not there. In fact, we can never get there. We have built more infrastructure than we can possibly maintain. There is no amount of money or taxation that can maintain what we’ve built. That is true everywhere, not just Sacramento County.

Many people were disappointed that SB 1 increase in gas tax didn’t fix very many streets. The legislation was directed mostly to state highways, and only partly to local streets and roads. Even at the state highway level, it is not enough money. At the local level, the amount of funding is a tiny fraction of what would be needed.

The proposal acknowledges the need for maintenance, beginning with the second paragraph of the Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements section. The sales tax proposal is in part an attempt to overcome the local maintenance deficit with local funds.

For the first five years following implementation of this Measure (April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2028), not less than 90% of the funds identified for the Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements program shall be used exclusively by all cities and the County of Sacramento for “Fix It First” road and bridge preventative maintenance and rehabilitation, including safety improvements, so as to bring these facilities throughout Sacramento County to a pavement condition index (PCI) of at least 70 at the soonest possible time, and bridges to meet acceptable state and federal standards.

Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan

This commitment is good. Every survey has indicated that fix-it-first is the highest public priority, and this interest probably accounted for much of the yes votes for the 2016 Measure B.

At the end of the five-year period following the date of implementation of this Measure (after March 31, 2028), not less than 50% of the funds identified for the Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements program shall be used exclusively by all cities and the County of Sacramento for “Fix It First” street, road, and bridge preventative maintenance and rehabilitation so as to continue efforts to bring these facilities throughout Sacramento County to PCI of at least 70, and bridges to meet acceptable state and federal standards.

Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan

So, for the next 35 years of the measure, the allocation to maintenance can be much lower, or zero if PCI 70 is achieved. This seems reasonable, in the sense that if every cent were spent on maintenance, nothing new would ever be built. Of course, when it comes to motor vehicles, that would be just fine with me. But probably not with the public.

Notwithstanding these allocation restrictions, the percentage commitments to “Fix It First” maintenance and rehabilitation may be reduced, and any city and the County of Sacramento may direct a higher percentage of those funds to new transformative system improvements, provided the following conditions have been met:

The public agency manager responsible for road maintenance has certified in writing to the City Council and City Manager in a city and the Board of Supervisors and the County Chief Administrative Officer that the road facilities under their management have met or will meet within the next 12 months a 70 PCI rating.

The public agency manager responsible for road maintenance has submitted a written plan to the City Manager or County Chief Administrative Officer clearly demonstrating how the 70 PCI rating will be sustained in the future. Any diversion of the funds committed to maintenance and rehabilitation can only continue as long as ajurisdiction maintains an average PCI of 70 or above for its street and road system.In addition, local jurisdictions must maintain current levels of funding for maintenance and rehabilitation and shall not use funds from this allocation to offset existing funding planned or allocated for this purpose.

Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan

What concerns me is that there are exceptions offered. The transportation agencies have gamed the system before, building new while not maintaining existing, and in fact that is the pattern of tranportation spending ever since World War II. It seems unlikely that they will immediately change their approach to infrastructure maintenance. What if it becomes obvious that our roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure are continuing to deteriorate? Will the engineers and planners and politicians be willing to forgo the big new projects and ribbon cuttings?

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

pavement condition in Sac City, part 2

I started wondering about other variables that might affect pavement condition index (PCI) in the council districts, so here is a little more exploration. See the previous post: pavement condition in Sac City.

First, the council district map, for those who may not be familiar with boundaries.

I wondered about the relationship between population density (people per square mile) and PCI. There isn’t any correlation, though again, the district 1 and 8 outliers may be interesting. I did not realize that district 8 has the highest population density of the districts.

I wondered about the relationship between lanes miles and PCI. There is a weak correlation.

And finally, here is my current data table, in case you want to play with data or suggest insights. Note that the population of each district is roughly the same, as it should be. The unfunded column is the amount (millions of dollars) of backlog, to bring roadways up to PCI 75, but it does not include the ongoing yearly expense of maintaining them at that level.

pavement condition in Sac City

In the search for other information, I came across the City of Sacramento Pavement Condition Report, dated March 2020, and it has some interesting things to ponder. The city has 3000 lane miles of streets. The county reports road miles instead of lane miles, so I can’t directly compare the city and county, but the city does say it has the fifth largest roadways network in California.

The report has maps for each council district, showing the PCI for each (PCI = pavement condition index, a measure of how well the roadway has been maintained, higher is better). I wondered whether the PCI correlated with income, as many things do, so I plotted 2020 median household income of each district against PCI, table and chart below.

There is not a strong correlation between income and PCI, R = .42, but district 1 and 2 are clear outliers, with 1 being the highest income and highest PCI, and 2 being the lowest income and lowest PCI. The city report says that the reason district 1 has a high PCI is that the roads there are newer, but I’m a little doubtful this explains it all, since many of the roads in that area are now old enough to need maintenance.

The target score for ‘roads in good condition’ is at least PCI 75, so Sacramento is falling far short of that because it is not spending enough on roadway maintenance. Part of the reason for this is that money is spent on building new roadways and widening roadways instead of maintaining roadways. But the underlying reason is that the city has allowed to be constructed, and then taken on maintenance responsibility for, roadways which it does not have the income to maintain. In new developments, construction of internal roadways is paid by the developer, but arterials and collectors, which often must be upgraded to handle increased traffic, and the interchanges with freeways, are largely paid by the city, or grants, and are maintained by the city. But low density development, of which the city was formerly very fond and still has some attachment to, cannot ever generate enough income in property or sales taxes to maintain the roadways. This is one of the great suburban subsidies that so hurts our cities and counties.

The report lays out three funding level scenarios:

  1. current funding levels: The PCI will deteriorate over 10 years to 42, which is rated ‘poor’, and if ever corrected, would cost about ten times as much to correct as it would to maintain. I doubt that most people in the city would find this in any way acceptable.
  2. maintain current conditions: To keep the PCI level at 60, the city would need to spend $35.7 million per year, but it is currently only spending $9.7 million per year. This is 3.7 times current expenditures. Though the PCI would be stable, there would be a continuous increasing backlog of maintenance because the PCI would not be improved to the desired 75.
  3. improve conditions to state of good repair: To bring PCI to 75 would cost $58.5 million per year. This is 6.0 times current expenditures.

What to do? I’m sure if the city knew, it might never have gotten into this bind. This is a pattern with nearly all cities, that they cannot under any reasonable current taxation scheme hope to maintain their infrastructure. This post is about roadways, but the same is true of water supply and sewer and electric and gas. And services such as fire and police, for that matter. And it doesn’t even touch on the need for sidewalk maintenance, which is only addressed in terms of adding ADA structures at intersections. For much greater insight on the problem and possible solutions, I refer you to Strong Towns and the book Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity (from your local bookstore or library).

But I will suggest some things:

  • a moratorium on accepting any new roadways into the city, until the city has identified a mechanism for maintaining them, which would probably entail the developer paying into a trust fund for maintenance
  • paving of parking lanes to a lower level of maintenance than travel lanes; adjacent areas do not need the load bearing capacity of travel lanes nor receive as much wear and tear; the city has already done this in a few locations
  • reducing excess travel lanes; for most roadways in the city, three travel lanes per direction are excess capacity, rarely needed except for brief periods of time or in uncommon circumstances; though re-allocation to bike lanes, separated bikeways, or sidewalks (or in a few cases, parking) should be the ultimate fate of these excess areas, in the meanwhile they can just be blocked off from use and therefore remove the need for maintenance; in many cases two lanes per direction are also excess
  • evaluate whether a lower PCI than 75 might be just fine for residential streets and collector streets; after all, poor pavement does have a traffic calming effect, and we need traffic calming everywhere, so maybe PCI 60 is OK for many roadways

I believe that funding to maintain local streets, most of which are residential streets, and probably collector streets, should come from the city or county level, not from the state or federal government. The closer to the roadway the funding is, the more likely the city or county is to make rational and sustainable decisions about roadway maintenance responsibilities and funding. I think an argument could be made that arterial maintenance should be funded by the state since these roadways serve traffic beyond the city and county boundaries.

As a car-free person, you might assume that I don’t care much about pavement condition, but buses and bikes operate on the same streets as private motor vehicles and commercial vehicles, so acceptable pavement condition is important to me as well.