As CA's Roads Face Funding Shortfall, Federal Infrastructure Support is Needed

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California’s transportation revenues, like most other states, have been hurt by a reduction in traffic volume during the pandemic. The resulting impact on California’s road repair program is now being felt as the state faces a projected $6.1 billion annual shortfall four years after adopting Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), a fuel tax increase and transportation plan dedicated to improving roads, bridges and transit.

The new estimates reflect an unexpected decline in fuel tax revenue related to the pandemic as well as new projections about how California roadways might deteriorate as climate change accelerates. The shortfall figure was included in a draft report, “The State Highway System Management Plan,” prepared for the California Transportation Commission.

SB 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 aimed to invest $54 billion over 10 years to fix California’s roads, freeways and bridges and make improvements to transit and safety. But the pandemic has taken its toll — in January 2021 for instance, vehicle miles traveled on California roads were down 15.2% from a year earlier.

While SB 1 was designed to expedite repairs, it was never meant as a fix for all the state’s road problems. This new report says that available funding can now only “address about 45% of the total identified needs.” Given the projected shortfall, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration could be looking for help from the White House, where President Joe Biden is pushing for a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

“President Biden’s landmark infrastructure proposal is in lockstep with California’s investment in transportation four years ago this month with the passage of SB 1,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “The state will benefit from this forward-thinking federal plan to fix our aging infrastructure, mitigate climate change… and making substantial investments in transit, address racism and issues of equity, and create millions of jobs in California and the nation.”

Biden’s plan includes $115 billion nationally for highway and bridge repair. No state estimates are currently available, but it is estimated that California typically gets about 9% of such funding, which would amount to $10.3 billion. The extra funding would be much-needed infusion for the state as it continues to face great challenges in repairing and maintaining its roads and bridges.

“The curtailed business and social activity caused by the pandemic has taken its toll on resources anticipated for funding transportation in California. This makes the proposed federal infrastructure legislation funding package even more critical.” 

— Carol Church, Rebuild SoCal Partnership