Streets in the City of Los Angeles stretch for 28,000 land miles—the distance to and from Paris, France—and about a third of them are in a condition of such disrepair that it would cost $650,000 per mile to fix them.
“We’ve inherited a nightmare—we all know how bad the streets are in L.A.,” Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander told the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association Wednesday night during his first-ever public appearance before the high-powered gathering.
Englander was the featured speaker at SOHA’s monthly community meeting at Notre Dame High School, which was attended by about 100 people. His talk’s title: “Our Streets Are Horrendous—What is the Solution?”
Los Angeles leads the nation in failed streets categorized as being in the “D” or “F” condition, that is, streets that can only be fixed by completely overhauling them, Englander said. The city has some 8,700 miles of failed streets—about three times as many streets in the entire city of Oakland, CA, he said.
No major work on L.A. streets was done from 1950 through 1990, Englander said. In 1995, the city brought in a new system called “micro-paver,” which measures and grades every single street in the city. As of 2005, L.A. has had enough money to maintain streets “but not enough to take care of the backlog,” Englander said.
Streets graded A, B or C receive a “slurry seal” every seven years that costs about $25,000 per mile. The remedy is “not a resurface or a reconstruction” but is designed to stretch the life of a street for about 20 or 30 years, Englander told the meeting.
Two decades ago, the city commissioned a study by its Department of Transportation, which reported that it would cost about $700 million to fix L.A.’s broken streets. But the city had neither the money to address the problem nor the nerve to tax voters, so it decided to do nothing, Englander said, adding that the cost of fixing our streets has doubled every 10 years.
“We are $3 billion behind in fixing our roads,” the councilman said. In another 10 years, the cost will be $6 billion.
“One of the questions we keep getting is, Where are our tax dollars going, and why haven’t our streets been maintained and funded?” Englander said.
Part of the answer lies in how the city collects taxes for fixing its streets. One of the revenue sources is the so-called “gas tax,” which is about 30 cents per gallon of gasoline bought, regardless of the price of gas, Englander explained. The federal government takes about half of the tax, and after the state and L.A. County take their share, the city is left with no more than about 3 cents of tax money per gallon.
“That hasn’t changed for about 40 years,” Englander said, adding that the revenue stream has been further depleted by the fact that vehicles have become a lot more fuel-efficient over the decades, causing the average driver to buy relatively less gas, thereby contributing less to the gas tax.
Our broken streets take a toll on vehicles. According to an annual study done by the National Transportation Authority, it costs the average Angeleno $744 a year to pay for maintaining vehicles directly as a result of inferior roads, Englander said.
“If we wait another 10 years” the cost of fixing L.A.’s streets will be $6 billion, Englander said, adding that he and Councilman Joe Buscaino approached UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor Edward Leamer, a leading economist who presents the high-profile quarterly Anderson forecasts of the economy in both the U.S. and California, for a solution.
Leamer suggested that the city float a 10-year “general obligation bond,” pegged to ownership of property, for rebuilding D and F categories of failed streets.
“Interest rates on G.O. bonds are the lowest now in 40 years,” Englander said, adding that such a bond would generate about $300 million annually and create some 30,000 jobs, which, Leamer recommended, ought to be filled in by private-sector workers instead of city employees.
Meanwhile, city employees should focus on maintaining streets “in perpetuity—so that we never have to do this again,” Englander said.