Rough roads costing Modesto consumers

September 24, 2010 

The greater Modesto area has some of the roughest roads in the nation, and that is costing local motorists additional money to operate their vehicles, a study says.

Eight California cities, including Modesto and Stockton, were among the 20 urban areas with the worst road conditions, according to the report from the transportation research group TRIP. Modesto was 14th in the national ranking and Stockton was 12th.

Silicon Valley roads were ranked as the worst in the nation, with 64 percent considered to be in poor condition. The Concord area was ranked fourth, followed by the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area at No. 5.

The report released this week said 34 percent of roads in Modesto and the surrounding area were in poor condition, far higher than the national average of 24 percent. The study considered roads maintained by the city, county and state.

Because of pavement cracks and potholes, Modesto-area motorists were said to be spending an additional $553 a year on vehicle operating costs. Poor road conditions increase repair bills, fuel consumption and tire costs, and may require owners to replace vehicles sooner.

The report, titled "Hold the Wheel Steady: America's Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make Our Roads Smoother," was based on a 2008 survey of state transportation officials regarding local road conditions.

"Roads are battered and shattered in every urban area of California, and they are costing the state's motorists hundreds of dollars a year at a time when they can ill afford it," said Bert Sandman, executive director for Transportation California, a nonprofit transportation advocacy group.

Dennis Turner, interim public works director for Modesto, said he knew about the road conditions before the TRIP report was released. The city has road assessments done every few years.

The latest showed that 50 percent of Modesto's 630 miles of roadway were in poor or very poor condition. About 22 percent were in good shape and 28 percent were fair.

"We have known for some time that the revenues available to maintain streets were lagging behind the need," Turner said.

Modesto relies on state gasoline tax revenue to pay for road maintenance. The state has withheld or taken some of the revenue in recent years, he said. Moreover, people have cut back on travel and gasoline purchases during the economic downturn.

The city did receive $3.2 million for roads from the federal economic stimulus program, so it has stepped up repairs in the past year. The funding helped pay for work on Woodland, Kansas and Needham avenues, Carver and Rumble roads, and several streets downtown. Oakdale Road is scheduled for work soon.

The California Department of Transportation resurfaced McHenry and Yosemite avenues, which are state highways.

"We have certainly improved the situation in Modesto," Turner said, "but we are not where we would like to be."

Scotty Higgins, who drives a shuttle for a Modesto car dealership, said the streets have taken a toll on the company vehicle.

"We have had the front wheel bearings replaced in the vehicle," he said Thursday. "That is not a thing that goes out very readily. ... McHenry Avenue was the worst of all, but it has been great since the repairs. Some of the outlying streets and roads are very bad."

Matt Machado, public works director for Stanislaus County, did not dispute the national road condition report.

The county's gasoline tax revenue is down more than 7 percent from the prior year, he said, adding that the county does not collect a local transportation tax. Stanislaus voters twice have rejected special road-tax measures.

Despite a ½-cent transportation tax in San Joaquin County, Stockton ranked sixth in the nation for rough roads among cities with 250,000 to 500,000 population.

Stanislaus County has $6 million in federal stimulus money under contract for road maintenance, Machado said. That is making for smoother rides on West Main Avenue, west of Turlock, as well as Carpenter Road, Grayson Road and other streets.

With 1,600 miles of roadways, the county has a goal to resurface each one every 10 years, Machado said. At current funding levels, the county is averaging about 120 miles of road maintenance per year.

"The funding does not get close to matching the needs, so the roads continue to deteriorate," he said.

Sandman said the state gasoline tax last was raised 20 years ago, and the tax would need to be 8 cents per gallon higher just to keep pace with inflation. "Much of our infrastructure dates back to the post-World War II boom and even before. It is simply wearing out, and we are failing to invest in essential upkeep," he said.

The TRIP report recommends that local agencies have preventive maintenance programs and better strategies for timing the rehabilitation of road surfaces.

Turner said Modesto tries to make sure streets with high traffic counts are kept in good condition, because of the escalating cost of repairing deteriorated roads. The maintenance cost is $15 per square yard for a road in fair condition, but $30 per square yard for one in poor condition and $58 per square yard for a road needing complete reconstruction.

To view the TRIP report, log on to www.tripnet.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

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