Lousy roads make Modesto car repairs among most costly in U.S.

10/03/2013 8:17 PM

10/03/2013 11:03 PM

Rough roads in Modesto cost drivers an extra $560 in car repairs each year, says a study that could be used in tax campaigns.

The estimate is far more than the national average of $377. Modesto ranks 15th on a list of the country’s worst midsized cities for wear and tear on vehicles.

Modesto also fared badly by another measure, landing 19th on a similar list for lousy roads because 31 percent of its streets are considered to be in poor condition.

Potholes, ruts and bumps stunt cities’ ability to compete in economic growth and “rob drivers of hundreds of dollars each year,” said Will Kempton, executive director of Transportation California.

TRIP, a national transportation research group, relied on 2011 reports generated by cities for the study, called “Bumpy Roads Ahead.” Authors calculated costs for repairs, tire wear and fuel consumption, and report that drivers in five cities – including three in California – spend at least $700 more than they should each year, thanks to poor roads.

The study is aimed at persuading Congress to approve more street repair money before the current funding package expires Sept. 30, 2014. But local leaders could find its conclusions useful long before then.

Modesto voters on Nov. 5 will confront Measure X, a sales tax hike meant mostly to boost police and fire services, although City Council members pledged to set aside 25 percent of proceeds for street improvements. “Pothole repair” is specifically cited in the council’s spending plan.

Measure X would raise sales tax in the city 1 percent, or 1 cent for an item costing $1, 10 cents for something costing $10 and so on. It’s a general tax increase, meaning the money would not be dedicated to a specific purpose like a library tax, but the council committed to certain earmarks in hopes of swaying a majority of voters.

The measure has caused some heartburn for regional transportation leaders who fear it might hurt their chances for a transportation tax increase across all of Stanislaus County. That could go before voters, in a form yet to be determined, as soon as November 2014.

Modesto leaders, sympathetic to that concern, agreed to cut Measure X by half if a countywide transportation vote also succeeds.

Some transportation officials have claimed that families would save money by agreeing to higher taxes.

How? Because proceeds would help smooth roads, reducing car repair bills, they say.

Five years ago – the last time a road tax came before voters, without success – leaders said families with a yearly income of $40,000 could be expected to spend about $10,000 on taxable items; a road tax would have cost those families $50 a year under the half-cent hike proposed at that time.

The same formula for a 1 cent hike translates to an extra cost of about $100 a year for families in that range under Measure X. Of that, $25 would be reserved for road improvements.

Families making $80,000 would pay $200 toward Measure X, with $50 going to street repairs, under that formula.

How much the average Modesto driver’s extra costs of $560, cited in “Bumpy Roads Ahead,” might be lowered with better streets is open to debate.

“The cost to own and maintain a vehicle increases because cars and trucks wear out more quickly, require more maintenance and consume more fuel,” the study says. It estimates the annual nationwide cost of putting up with “unacceptably rough rides” at $80 billion.

“With state and local governments struggling to fund needed road repairs and with federal surface transportation funding set to be slashed next year, road conditions are projected to get even worse,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director, in a release.

Stockton fared worse than Modesto in the study’s other measure in terms of the city’s percentage of poor roads – 40 percent for Stockton, compared with 31 percent for Modesto.

But 70 percent of Modesto’s streets fall in the worst two categories – poor and mediocre – compared with Stockton’s 63 percent.

Los Angeles-area motorists pay an extra $832 per year in car repairs – topping the list for cities large and small, the study says. Antioch’s $793 is the highest estimate for midsized U.S. cities.

Attempts to raise the sales tax for transportation in Stanislaus County failed in 2006 and 2008, the last by a slim margin. A majority of people voted “yes” both times, but the vote fell short of the required two-thirds supermajority for a special tax.

For more information about the study, go to www.tripnet.org.

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