Do you guys remember, back in 2006, last time we were picking a new Mayor, how one of the big things everyone was concerned about with the City was the condition of the streets?
You would go to these forums, and Ron Dellums would be all “You know, I don’t have an S on my chest. Also, Oakland is on an 85 year street repaving cycle. That’s unacceptable.” And everyone would kind of shake their head in dismay and mutter about how terrible that is.
And then at work the next day, the people in the next row of cubes would be all “The roads in Oakland are so bad! I drove over this enormous pothole on the way here today. I think it damaged my car!” And then someone else would be like “Oh yeah. You know, I read in the newspaper that Oakland is on an 85 street repaving cycle! It’s disgusting! God, I hope Ignacio wins.”
I guess that last part probably depends on what kind of company you worked for. There were not a whole lot of Dellums supporters at the commercial real estate brokerage I was employed by at the time. Not that it really mattered what they thought anyway, since they all lived in Piedmont and couldn’t vote here. Anyway.
These days, of course, the City has more immediate problems to deal with, and most people are, understandably, more concerned with the recent layoff of like 10 percent of the police force than they are about the crappy streets they’ve been living with for however many years.
But just because you don’t hear so much about the street condition problem anymore, that doesn’t mean it has gone away. In fact, it’s just getting worse. This morning, the Oakland City Council’s Public Works Committee (PDF) will receive a report on the condition of Oakland’s streets (PDF).
How they measure pavement
Perhaps you recall seeing some headline in the not so distant past about how Oakland has some of the worst roads in the Bay Area. If you’re anything like me, you probably saw that headline and then shrugged your shoulders and rolled your eyes and said to yourself, “Of course it does,” and then moved on with your life and not even bothered to read any more. Because why wouldn’t Oakland have the worst roads, right?
(BTW, for curious types. The rankings come from the MTC’s Bay Area Jurisdiction Pavement Condition Summary (PDF), which places Oakland 95th out of 109 jurisdictions in the Bay Area for road quality. We beat East Palo Alto, Vallejo, Napa, St. Helena, Napa County, El Cerrito, Suisun City, Richmond, Marin County, Larkspur, Rio Vista, Orinda, Sonoma County, and Palo Alto. That’s right. We basically have rural quality roads. Hooray for us.)
So, the way MTC does this ranking and the way you rate just how bad your streets are is by using something called a Pavement Condition Index. The staff report (PDF) for tomorrow’s meeting helpfully explains exactly what the different ratings mean:
The pavement industry uses a Pavement Condition (PCI), a numeric grading system on a scale of 0 to 100, to rank the condition of streets. In this system, a score of 100 represents brand new pavement and 0 represents a completely failed pavement.
All roadways deteriorate over time by traffic loading and weathering. However, the rate of deterioration can be controlled, and pavement can be greatly preserved by applying timely maintenance treatments. Paved streets normally have three life cycle stages: 1) initial deterioration; 2) visible deterioration, and 3) disintegration and failure. During the first few years of use, the roadway surface starts to experience some initial deterioration. This stage represents a PCI of 80 or above. Preservation strategies during this period are least costly and can reduce the need for more costly rehabilitation later on. Visible deterioration shows signs of distress as potholes and crackign occur. This stage represents a PCI of 50 or slightly above. A more costly rehabilitation is required at this stage using milling and overlays to extend the life of the road. Roads not properly maintained at the above stages will disintegrate and fail.
The lifespan of a pavement is expected to be about 25 years. Cost of reconstruction after this 25 year period is moer than three times the cost of preservation of rehabilitation treatments over the same period. A successful pavement management program must focus most resources on pavement preservation rather than pavement reconstruction. According to the industry best management practices pavement network is most optimally maintained at a PCI of 80.
So basically, it’s cheaper to fix streets when they are still in relatively decent condition because the repairs last longer, and once you fall below 50, you’re going to have to spend way more money to fix them. Or, if you don’t, your street will just become hopelessly ruined.
Where Oakland’s streets fall
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that most of Oakland’s streets are not landing at the top of that scale. In fact, out of all our streets, only 7% are in what is considered “excellent” condition, with a PCI rating of between ninety and one hundred.A considerably higher number (28%) have a rating of between fifty and sixty-nine, which gets them filed under “fair.” And then of course we’ve got another 27% of our streets (222 miles) that fall into the category of “poor” condition, with a rating of somewhere between zero and forty-nine. Ouch.
How much do Oakland’s roads need?
So as depressing as this information is, it really isn’t the worst of it. You see, bad streets cost a lot of money to repair. And when you don’t repair a bad street, it starts to deteriorate even faster.
A score of 60, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), represents a 40% reduction in quality that a roadway reaches in about 20 years as its condition turns from “good” to “fair.” The same pavement, if untreated, will experience another 40% reduction in quality in only the next 3 to 5 years, turning from “fair” to “poor.” This accelerated rate of deterioration makes it critical to fund preventive maintenance teratments to sustain streets at high PCI levels at relatively low costs. Again, cost of reconstruction of pavement after its failure is more than three times the costs of preservation or rehabilitation treatments over the life cycle of that pavement.
And of course, not taking care of our streets is exactly what Oakland has been doing for…well, for a while now.
The report (PDF) estimates that the current cost of getting all Oakland’s streets back to decent condition would be $418 million, a substantial increase over the $300 million needed just four years ago. And if we keep going the way we have been, that cost is estimated to rise to $760 million by 2014.
How we can pay for it
So at the end of the report (PDF), there’s a little section about our different options for finding a revenue source to pay for all this needed street repair. They’ve got the Alameda County Vehicle Registration Fee on there, which is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. I don’t want to be dismissive of any new money coming to the City, but this $10 per car fee is not the miracle that a lot of people are treating it as. It would bring Oakland a little under $2 million a year for road repairs, which is nice. But it’s also not a real solution.
The other options are all just like, total non-starters. $200 a year parcel tax, $300 a year bond measure, assessment districts…I mean, I just don’t see any of that happening. They float the idea of a half-cent sales tax devoted entirely to street maintenance like El Cerrito has, which I suppose I would be more okay with that a sales tax that just went into the black hole of the General Fund, but still, I don’t know that I see that one passing either. And then tacked onto the end of the list you’ve got impact fees, which people at the City have been talking about for years as the solution to like, all of Oakland’s problems or whatever, but nothing ever seems to come of it, and of course, even if they do ever get it together to pass some, you’re still left with the problem that you can’t collect fees from developers that don’t exist.
Basically, there’s no sense here that we have any realistic options for getting our annual street repair spending up to the $26 million level that we would need to keep that deferred maintenance figure from continuing to skyrocket every year.
This is scary
So. It’s, like, really bad to not have roads in your city. I mean, for one, it’s dangerous. It totally ruins people’s cars to be driving on like horrible falling apart roads full of potholes all the time. And when you’re on a bicycle and the street is all disintegrating and full of potholes? OMG. Bad roads make bus rides bumpier and less pleasant. And of course, a city where the streets are in total disrepair is hardly welcoming to investors.
This is one of the serious, long-term issues facing Oakland that it would be really nice to hear the candidates for Mayor talk about. It’s all well and good and kind of cute, I guess, to sit around saying how you’re going to personally look for potholes and report them and then drive back a week later to check and see if they’ve been fixed, but that’s not really addressing the problem.