This article by ARTBA President and CEO Dave Bauer, and Emily Cohen, executive vice president of San Ramon, Calif.-headquartered United Contractors, posted April 29 on the San Francisco Chronicle website.
By Dave Bauer and Emily Cohen
Mid-morning on Feb. 7, motorists on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge came face to face with an unexpected problem besides the tailgaters in their rearview mirrors.
Large chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck onto the lower deck of the bridge, prompting authorities to shut down the entire bridge and forcing commuters to take other routes to work. More concrete fell in two incidents in April, resulting in lane closures.
That’s not the only Bay Area bridge or overpass with structural issues. There’s the Interstate 680 overpass over Monument Boulevard in Contra Costa County, the Interstate 280 crossing over Lawrence Expressway in the South Bay and the Interstate 580 span over San Lorenzo Creek in Alameda County.
In fact, California has the dubious distinction of ranking seventh in the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges with 1,812 of them.
If placed end to end, they would stretch nearly 75 miles and cover 280 football fields. And the repair bill is a hefty $8.8 billion, according to a new analysis of federal government data released April 1 by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
The report provided the backdrop for a scheduled meeting Tuesday, April 30, between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump to discuss infrastructure as Congress continues its slow-paced deliberations about how to maintain and improve this crucial national asset.
The real story here is the abject failure over many years by elected officials, particularly at the federal level, to make the investments necessary to keep our infrastructure in a state of good repair.
And yet, the American people are clamoring for action. A January 2019 ARTBA/Rasmussen Reports survey found that almost 90 percent of likely voters believe “the Democratic leadership and President Trump should work together during 2019 to pass legislation that would improve … infrastructure.”
So, what’s to be done?
The most pressing priority: Fix the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the source, on average, of more than 50 percent of all highway and bridge capital investments made annually by state transportation departments. In California, that number has averaged 69 percent, and even with additional state resources in the 2017 SB1 law, is expected to remain above 50 percent.
The trust fund is in a world of financial hurt. Without Congress authorizing new revenue, starting in 2021, states would face a 40 percent cut in investment. All revenue options, including an increase in the federal gasoline tax for the first time since 1993, and new freight-related user fees, should be on the table.
Contrary to assertions from the pundits, supporting a gas tax increase will not end political careers. Since 2013, 30 states have raised or adjusted their state gas tax to increase transportation investment.
Voters have re-elected 92 percent of nearly 1,900 state lawmakers who voted in favor of a gas tax increase 2013-2018 and ran for re-election. Support for lawmakers persists across party lines — more than 90 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans were re-elected. It’s time for members of Congress to demonstrate similar backbone.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a thoughtful voice pushing for a robust, multiyear infrastructure improvement bill since the 2016 elections. At least on this issue, it’s time for her and President Trump to “bridge” their political differences and travel the high road together. The voting — and motoring —public of California deserves nothing less.