06:12 AM PST on Thursday, December 17, 2009

By DUG BEGLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Bumpy roads and cracked pavement are costing Inland drivers hundreds of dollars, and the problem is only getting worse as road repairs are shelved to save the state money, according to officials and a national report released today.

About 88 percent of the highways and freeways in the Inland area are so cracked, old and potholed that they are considered mediocre or poor, the study found.

The report was prepared by TRIP, a Washington, D.C., group that assesses the nation’s roads each year. The report was based on data from Caltrans’ highway maintenance program.

In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, 44 percent of the roads for which Caltrans is responsible rate as poor, the report said. The roads are worse in the desert: 47 percent of the highways and freeways in the Coachella Valley are in poor condition.

In addition, the study found, 14 percent of bridges in the two counties were structurally deficient, and 12 percent were deemed functionally obsolete. The classifications don’t mean they are unsafe to cross, but rather that they are beyond their useful life, are too narrow or are showing signs of distress.

“These bridges no longer meet modern design standards for safety features such as lane widths or alignment with connecting roads or are no longer adequate for the volume of traffic being carried,” the report said.

The problem of poor roads is only going to grow, said Mark Watts, spokesman for Transportation California, a statewide group urging transportation investment.

“A year of bad weather and another year of use and you’re still going to be in the hole because the needs are worse,” Watts said.

For Inland drivers, the disrepair adds up, costing commuters more than $2,000 a year when vehicle maintenance costs associated with poor roads, lost productivity sitting in traffic, and accident costs are factored.

Local drivers each year spend $632 on increased maintenance, wasted fuel as they idle and tire wear because of bad roads, compared to the national average of $335, the report found.

Chip Weiss, 44, said that since he started commuting to Orange County for work as a deliveryman — after losing his construction job — his 2006 pickup truck hasn’t been the same.

“It takes a beating,” said Weiss, of Moreno Valley.

Caltrans officials agreed more must be done to fix ailing roads. They said they already are focusing on repairs.

“In this last year there have been several road rehab jobs completed,” spokeswoman Rose Melgoza said in an e-mail. She noted lanes on Interstate 15 in the San Bernardino Mountains and Interstate 10 around Ontario were recently paved.

“Our strategy under the maintenance program (is) to focus on roads that are in good condition and do pavement overlays to prolong the life of the road,” Melgoza wrote.

Major rehab projects that involve bridges and severely cracked concrete take more time and money, she said. For those, state maintenance funds are used.

“These are more costly and take longer to implement as funds become available,” she said.

Weiss said he is frustrated his tax dollars don’t take care of the problem.

“You’d think with all the taxes they’d be able to pave roads,” he said.

But that’s not the case, officials said. Statewide spending on road repairs is planned at $1.5 billion annually for the next decade, based on Caltrans’ Ten-Year Highway Operation and Protection Plan released in 2007. During that time, officials estimate needing $5.5 billion each year. That leaves $40 billion in repairs for the next 10 years with no plan to pay for them.

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