Bay Area Pavement Conditions Stalled in Fair Territory
OAKLAND, Calif., June 22, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — The condition of pavement on the Bay Area’s 42,500 lane-miles of local streets and roads is only fair at best, with the typical stretch of asphalt showing serious wear and likely to require rehabilitation soon. Data released today by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) puts the region’s 2010 pavement condition index (PCI) score at 66 out of a maximum possible 100 points, as computed on a three-year moving average basis. This is unchanged from the 2009 reading, and is within two points of readings going back to 2006, leaving the region mired in a mediocre-quality range.
The 2010 pavement assessment is contained in a new MTC report on the region’s streets and roads. Titled The Pothole Report: Can the Bay Area Have Better Roads?, the report supplements the agency’s annual jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction ranking of the PCI scores of the Bay Area’s nine counties and 101 cities with a handy primer on the cost and life-cycle of pavement. The report looks at some of the key factors that affect the condition of our roads, and catalogs the persistent and daunting challenges that confront public works departments in the region, including a serious need for greater funding. On a somewhat brighter note, The Pothole Report spotlights trends and technologies that make it possible to imagine a future where roads are not only smoother, but also safer and greener.
“The report documents the difficulties we face in maintaining our pavement, and identifies some promising new approaches,” said MTC Chair and San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier. “That’s why we subtitled the report with a question. For a while now, the Bay Area has barely been holding its ground in terms of pavement quality. Clearly, we could do a better job. Whether we take the necessary steps is up to us as a region.”
Leaders and Laggards, by the Numbers
The Bay Area jurisdiction with the highest-ranked pavement in 2010 was the city of Brentwood, with a PCI score of 86. This is the third straight year that this city in eastern Contra Costa County has finished at the top of the regional list. Brentwood’s 2010 score was a one-point improvement over its 2009 score of 85. Other top-ranked cities for 2010 (and their PCI scores) were: Belvedere, in Marin County (84); Dublin, in Alameda County (82); Los Altos, in Santa Clara County (82); and Foster City, in San Mateo County (81).
At the other end of the scale, the Bay Area locality with the lowest-ranked pavement in 2010 was the Solano County city of Rio Vista, which had a PCI score of 42, down three points from its ranking in 2009. Other jurisdictions at the low end of the rankings (and their PCI scores) were Sonoma County (45 – up one point from 2009′s lowest-in-the-region PCI score of 44); Larkspur, in Marin County (45); St. Helena, in Napa County (46); and Orinda, in Contra Costa County (49).
On the positive side, The Pothole Report highlights the very impressive efforts undertaken by the city of El Cerrito to improve the quality of its 145 lane-miles of city streets. Thanks to the 2008 passage of a half-cent city sales tax for a Street Improvement Program, plus a combination of bond funds and grant money, El Cerrito reduced its maintenance backlog from $21.2 million in 2006 to $500,000 last year, and boosted its one-year PCI score from 48 (poor) to 85 (very good) and its three-year moving average from 53 (at-risk) to 62 (fair).
PCI scores of 90 or higher are considered “excellent.” These are newly built or resurfaced streets that show little or no distress. Pavement with a PCI score in the 80 to 89 range is characterized as “very good,” and shows only slight or moderate distress, requiring mostly preventive maintenance. The “good” category ranges from 70 to 79, while streets with PCI scores in the “fair” (60-69) range are becoming worn to the point where rehabilitation may be needed to prevent rapid deterioration. Because major repairs cost five to 10 times more than routine maintenance, these streets are at an especially critical stage. Roadways with PCI scores of 50 to 59 are deemed “at-risk,” while those with PCI scores of 25 to 49 are considered “poor.” These roads require major rehabilitation or reconstruction. Pavement with a PCI score below 25 is considered “failed.” These roads are difficult to drive on and need reconstruction.
New Developments, Fresh Thinking
In addition to updating the PCI scores throughout the region, The Pothole Report provides a briefing on a couple of exciting developments in the pavement-management field that can help make roads greener and safer. “Cold In-Place Recycling” (CIR) is a highly promising technique, new to the Bay Area, in which specialized machinery cold-planes existing pavement to a depth of two to eight inches, pulverizes this removed pavement, mixes it with additives, and then replaces and smooths the mix back onto the roadway. While not appropriate for all local roadways, this repaving method has been shown to cut asphalt rehabilitation costs by 20 percent to 40 percent, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from pavement repair projects by eliminating the need to produce new paving material or transport it to the worksite. MTC recently awarded a $2 million grant through its Climate Initiatives Program to help finance a CIR demonstration project by Sonoma County and the city of Napa, with the intention of piloting the use of this technology for possible applications elsewhere in the Bay Area.
The Pothole Report also endorses the concept of “Complete Streets,” a relatively new design approach for urban neighborhoods in which the entire streetscape, from sidewalk to sidewalk, is geared for safe access and use by pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders, as well as motorists. Common elements typically include bike lanes, sidewalk bike racks, transit stops, pedestrian signals, street trees and curb ramps. “Building Complete Streets requires a somewhat larger construction investment,” commented MTC Chair Tissier, “but the benefits of this spending are spread to a wider spectrum of road users.” One study cited by the National Complete Streets Coalition found that designing for pedestrian travel by installing raised medians and redesigning intersections and sidewalks reduced pedestrian injury and fatality risk by 28 percent.
New Funding Needed to Avert Fiscal Pothole
The potential benefits associated with these promising techniques are quite attractive, but with a regionwide average PCI score of 66, the Bay Area’s city streets and county roads are already close to the tipping point on the pavement life-cycle curve, after which pavement may decline rapidly and repair costs increase. The Pothole Report states that “predictable, long-term funding is imperative if cities and counties are to travel toward a pothole-free future.” At current funding levels, the report points out, pavement conditions in the region will deteriorate to an average PCI reading of 45 – in the “poor” range – by the year 2035.
In order to bring Bay Area pavement up to a “good” condition (PCI of 75), the region would need to triple current maintenance expenditures, from the present level of $351 million a year to nearly $1 billion annually. “As the various levels of government look to renew and/or reauthorize funding measures and long-range plans,” said Tissier, “attention to the cost of maintaining streets and roads at a good state of repair should be a high priority.”
MTC is the transportation planning, funding and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.