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LA's bad roads: Why you're spending an extra $2,485 a year, study says

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If you drive in Los Angeles, you are spending $2,485 extra each year because of bad roads.

That's one key finding in a report released Thursday morning by TRIP, a national transportation research group based in Washington and sponsored in part by construction companies and labor unions.

The report takes a hard look at the conditions of the Golden State's roadways and bridges and what that means for the motorists who use them. It estimates that drivers in Los Angeles are spending an extra $2,485 each year because of a deficient transportation system. 

"That’s the cost of driving on rough roads beating up your vehicle," says Rocky Moretti, TRIP's Director of Research and Policy. "That’s the cost of delays due to traffic congestion, and also the cost of serious traffic crashes as a result of driving on roads that oftentimes don’t have all the safety features that they should."  

The total cost to all California motorists is $44 billion annually, says the report, which also breaks down the number of hours the average driver loses each year in major metropolitan areas due to congestion: In Los Angeles, 61 hours each year.

The report adds that, on average, 2,976 people were killed annually in California traffic crashes from 2008 to 2012 and the fatality rate on California’s non-interstate rural roads is more than four times higher than that on all other roads in the state.

According to its official website,

TRIP is a private nonprofit organization that researches, evaluates and distributes economic and technical data on surface transportation issues.  TRIP promotes transportation policies that help relieve traffic congestion and its impact on air quality, improve road and bridge conditions, make surface travel safer, and enhance economic productivity. TRIP is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction, labor unions, and organizations concerned with an efficient and safe surface transportation network that promotes economic development and quality of life.

The problems the report highlights have been known and growing for several years, according to Genevieve Giuliano, a professor at USC's Price School of Public Policy and director of the METRANS Transportation Center.  "Because of funding constraints becoming ever more binding, the problems are becoming greater with every passing year," Giuliano told KPCC.  

Giuliano points to the Gerald Desmond Bridge at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as an example of slow response to aging infrastructure.

"They have what we call ‘the diaper’ on it because because so many pieces of concrete are falling off. We have to do that so they don’t fall on the ships below," Giuliano said. Construction on a replacement bridge began last year

"Was that bridge more than past its lifetime?" Giuliano asked rhetorically. "Yes, and it has taken a long time to get the project underway."

The TRIP report says more than a quarter of California bridges are in need of repair, improvement or replacement. Eleven percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, and 17 percent are functionally obsolete, according to the report. 

"The problem of maintaining the system is very straightforward to solve," Giuliano said. "What's missing right now is the political will."  But she said the problem of reducing congestion is more complicated.

"We can't just double all the freeways in Los Angeles," she said. "Even if we had the money, it probably wouldn't be a good investment."

Findings for California from TRIP report:  

  • Driving on deficient roads costs California motorists a total of $44 billion annually in the form of additional vehicle operating costs (VOC), congestion-related delays and traffic crashes.
  • TRIP has calculated the cost to the average motorist in California’s largest urban areas in the form of additional VOC, congestion-related delays and traffic crashes. The average Los Angeles driver loses $2,485 each year; each Sacramento motorist loses $1,543 annually; each San Diego driver loses $1,886 annually; and each driver in San Francisco-Oakland area loses $2,206.
  • On average, 2,976 people were killed annually in California traffic crashes from 2008 to 2012, a total of 14,878 fatalities over the five year period.
  • The fatality rate on California’s non-interstate rural roads is more than four times higher than that on all other roads in the state (2.61 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel vs. 0.63 statewide).
  • Annually, $1.34 trillion in goods are shipped from sites in California and another $1.28 trillion in goods are shipped to sites in California, mostly by truck.
  • A total of 28 percent of California bridges are in need of repair, improvement or replacement. Eleven percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 17 percent are functionally obsolete.
  • The average driver in the Los Angeles urban area loses 61 hours each year as a result of traffic congestion; each Sacramento area driver loses 32 hours annually; each San Diego area motorist loses 37 hours each year; each driver in San Francisco-Oakland area wastes 61 hours annually in congestion; and the average San Jose area motorist loses 39 hours.
  • An analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support approximately 27,800 jobs, including approximately 9,500 in the construction sector, approximately 4,300 jobs in industries supporting the construction sector, and approximately 14,000 other jobs induced in non-construction related sectors of the economy.
  • From 2008 to 2012, the federal government provided $1.32 for road improvements in California for every dollar paid in California in federal motor fuel fees.  
  • The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.
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