By Senator Scott Wilk
Responding to a call on Cajon Pass last month, a San Bernardino County Fire crew watched as their beloved Engine plummeted about 20 feet to its demise as Interstate 15 collapsed underneath it.
Thankfully, the firefighters remained on what solid ground was left on the dilapidated thoroughfare. But this incident highlighted, in dramatic fashion, the ramshackle shape of our region’s network of roads.
We once led the world in transportation ingenuity in this state. During the middle part of the last century, California — under the direction of Jerry Brown’s father, Governor Pat Brown — built a system of highways unrivaled by any other in the nation.
They built long roads over tough terrain and huge bridges up and down our rugged coastline. And they found new and innovative ways to fund and complete these massive undertakings, partnering with the federal government to raise funds for the unprecedented projects.
In the years since, though, we’ve let those advancements that made California a beacon of progress fall by the wayside. Our roads and highways, once the model for transportation excellence, are now a paragon of dilapidation and mismanagement. The highway system, one of the most ambitious projects our state took on back then, is now in shambles.
The collapse of Interstate 15 a was shocking display of our incompetence in the area of road maintenance. Just last year another instance was on prime display in the Victor Valley when Highway 18, a major commuter route between the Victor and Antelope Valleys, remained closed for a year and a half as mismanagement of the repair project led to delay after delay, increasing cost and detouring over 5,000 commuters headed to work.
Unfortunately, these are not rare examples; they only a few in a long line of troublesome extremes we’ve experienced after decades of neglectful transportation policies.
This winter Highway 50 in Northern California was almost completely inoperable due to half of its lanes falling off the hillside in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Likewise, Interstate 80 and highways 49, 101, 20, 1 and 299 have all left Californians stranded in remote areas of the state as one after another they’ve seen massive failures over the past few months.
Not only have we let our roads fall into horrible disrepair, but we long ago stopped pursuing new projects as well. Our transportation network was a massive undertaking for our predecessors. They saw the need to connect our state and the driving economic force that convenient transportation could be; and they took action.
Our highways made trade and travel throughout the state easy and accessible for all Californians. But our transportation infrastructure hasn’t been upgraded in nearly 60 years, and it wasn’t built for today’s California. Interstate 5, and most of our state’s highways, were built in the 1950s when our population was just over 10 million; by the end of this decade it will hit 40 million.
California leaders way back then, including the first Governor Brown, couldn’t have anticipated the massive population growth we’ve experienced or that their successors, and children, would give up entirely on maintaining and expanding our transportation network. Unfortunately, the old adage about apples and the tree apparently doesn’t hold true when it comes to prioritizing our transportation needs.
Our governor and the legislature have not prioritized these needs in the least. We have over $57 billion in deferred maintenance for our roads. That means $57 billion worth of things they could and should have taken care of but didn’t. That means $57 billion worth of repairs just to keep the roads we already have in working order, much less expand or build new ones.
While political elites in Sacramento will tell you there’s no money for these services and that raising taxes, again and again, is the only answer, this is simply not the case. Californians already pay the highest transportation taxes in the nation. In fact, Californians are already taxed enough each year to cover every squareinch of every highway in the state with dollar bills.
But our politicians, in their infinite wisdom, have “redirected” those funds to cover their reckless spending in other areas. So while we’re already being taxed to pay for highway repair, and taxed again for highway maintenance, and taxed again for highway construction, we continue to see the deferred maintenance figures rise and road drivability fall.
Adding more taxes is not going to solve the problems we face.
California Republicans have introduced a plan to address those maintenance needs without raising taxes. Instead, we’ve proposed spending tax revenue meant for infrastructure repairs on – infrastructure repairs.
The legislature knows the money is there. To fix our roads, to build freeways and expand those we have. To build a highway system suited to handle the huge number of people traversing this state each day. To end traffic congestion. To reduce deadly accidents. To solve our state’s infrastructure problems once and for all. But they’d rather not.
They’d rather “redirect,” “repurpose” and “redistribute” our money to pork-barrel projects and gubernatorial pipedreams. They’d rather do any and everything but take action to fix one of the most glaring problems impacting Californians today.
So, as we drive on the nation’s most dilapidated roads and highways, we do it as our government spends $64 billion on a bullet train to nowhere rather than directing that money to the $57 billion in maintenance our roads desperately need.
It is time for action on our failing roadways. We can no longer afford to stand by as the asphalt crumbles beneath us. The fire engine that fell off a collapsing Interstate 15 last month was empty; no one was hurt.
But next time it could be a school bus full of our children, or a family headed to Sunday service or any other nightmare scenario where our government’s negligence on fixing our roads leads to the loss of human lives.
Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District which includes the Antelope, Santa Clarita, and Victor valleys.