The Romans built roads that still exist without a gas tax, why are ours crumbling?

EOE Mary COLOR.jpg
Courtesy Photo.

It rained a bit last week.

Okay, it rained a lot.

Santee alone got 1.42 inches of rain in two days (San Diego’s yearly average is 10.34 inches).

We were all there, desperately trying to navigate swampy freeways – we all saw it.

More than that, some of our East County neighbors were severely impacted by the deluge of mid-last week that turned San Diego into the America’s finest, most unnavigable puddle.

Across East County, flashflood warnings took effect. The slick roads and wet conditions caused several accidents in the surrounding neighborhoods.

East County residents have been complaining about needed improvements to streets and sidewalks for a while now, but the recent rains seem to put an urgency to the issue of infrastructure.

Joshua Steward of the Union-Tribune reported that the County’s nearly 2,000 miles of deteriorating roads may be a while in seeing any kind of repair. According to his article, published in February of 2017, will face a $62.2 million shortfall in budgeting road repairs by this fiscal year.

When will our roads be fixed?

First, we need to look at who pays for our roads.

According to the 2013 Tax Foundation report, using 2010 numbers, only 34.4 percent of California’s total road spending came from federal, state and local gas taxes and direct user fees like tolls. The rest came from a general revenue pool.

The Legistlative Analyst’s Office, a non-partisan policy advisor, estimated that drivers pay an average of $750 a year in transportation taxes and fees between state and federal levies.

Some 60 percent of that goes to acutaly highway repairs and maintenance and public transportation, and about 10 percent of it goes into the general fund, the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Parks and Recreation, local law enforcement, general administration. “Enforcement and Regulation” eat up another 22 percent of those taxes. Seven percent goes toward the paying off accrued debt.

This puts last November’s attempt to repeal the gas tax into a new light. Maybe these are all important areas deserving of our taxpayer dollars (certainly local law enforcement), but it would be great if we could prioritize how we spent this money – it is not like it grows on trees.

But remember, only some 35 percent of our roads are paid for by these taxes anyway.

If the rest comes from general funds, I would ask why roads are not a priority for our elected leaders.

Like with money that we put toward our debts, toward our men and women in uniform, toward government-funded programs, our roadways should be charted in a hierarchy of priorities.

It would be awesome if we could pay for everything we wanted, but we cannot. So what do we spend money on first?

A look at the news will tell you that our leaders are focused on spending the big dollars – billions to put up  a wall, billions to renovate buildings across the nation into green energy constructions. These are hot botton issues, controversial issues, issues that win elections.

And here I am just waiting for someone to talk about roads.

On the West Coast, our economies and our livelihood depend on dependable roads. We live in an automobile culture. Our cities are built around our highways, entire communitites structured around transportation options.

So why is our government at local, state and federal levels ignoring how badly our roads need to be fixed?

And it isn’t like we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We can create green roads!

In the United Kingdom, manufacturers have discovered a way to create absorbing pavement that allows water to soak through several layers of road in into the ground below.

This is both very good for the immediate environment, and very good for the community.

These roads help prevent flooding, like we saw last week and late last year in December. They also help keep city temperatures down as they pavement is naturally cooler than their counterparts.

The only downside seems to be that the absorbtion system stops working if the water freezes, but that does not seem like an issue San Diego should be overly concerned with.

Of course, smart roads are more expensive roads, but that brings us back to the question of priorities.

In Steward’s 2017 article, he quoted Dianne Jacob, then-chair of the Board of Supervisors, talking about the need to repair roads now, rather than wait until they have crumbled.

“Pay now, or pay a lot more later,” said Jacob. “It’s a lot more expensive to keep those roads up when they are in a certain condition than waiting until they are in a deteriorating condition.”

Granted, she was not referring to the more costlier smart roads, but the logic is the same: invest in something good up front.

If a generation of hapless millennials can learn to invest in good shoes and pay for health insurance plans, surely our elected officials can see the wisdom in investing some long-term dough into the streets that we use every single day.

Smart roads or simply roads without potholes, the need is the same.

Americans want to know they are safe on their roads. They want to know they can get into their car to go to work or take their kids to school and trust the pavement beneath them.

It is time our elected officials made that happen.