The Economics of Asphalt: Fixing SF's Potholes


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In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has proposed a $248 million bond to pay for road repairs. A national travel research group, estimates that for the average driver, roads that are in poor condition add $335 annually to typical vehicle operating costs. In San Francisco, the high concentration of poor roads adds an average of $705 to the maintenance of each vehicle.

The SF Department of Public Works stated that this year’s winner of the SFSIWC Award (San Francisco Street in Worst Condition) is…….Roanoke Street at Arlington, on the southern edge of the city with a quality-index score of just 5 (a newly paved street is scored at 100). And, the runners up according to the Bay Citizen are Alameda Street between Utah Street and Potrero Avenue, with a score of 16, and Sansome Street between Lombard and Chestnut streets, with a score of 17.

While we’re on the topic, I just received my advanced copy of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) Bay Area Pothole Report.  So, I thought that I would breakdown the highlights from the report and save you some time of having to read your copy in its entirety. 

According to the MTC: At 66 out of a possible 100 points, the Bay Area’s average pavement condition index (PCI) score is now far closer to the 60-point threshold at which deterioration accelerates rapidly. A municipality that spends $1 on timely maintenance to keep a section of roadway in good condition would have to spend $5 to restore the same road if the pavement is allowed to deteriorate to the point where major rehabilitation is necessary.

Funding for roadway maintenance comes from a range of sources, including the state gasoline tax, county sales taxes, and local sources such as city or county general funds, bonds and traffic-impact fees. As the need for maintenance grows, funding from these sources has been shrinking. Not only are general fund contributions declining, but the state gas tax loses an average of 3 percent of its purchasing power each year due to inflation.

County transportation sales taxes typically dedicate less than 25 percent of revenues to local street and road maintenance, and receipts from these taxes have fallen sharply in recent years due to the deep economic recession that began in 2007.

I was also pleased to read about greener asphalt methods:

Several Bay Area municipalities are experimenting with a relatively new technology known as Cold In-Place Recycling (CIR), which eliminates the need for the extraction and processing of raw materials, as well as the transportation and lay-down of finished asphalt-concrete (the main material in pavement resurfacing). On average, each lane mile paved with CIR instead of conventional hot-mix asphalt reduces Co2 emissions by 131,000 pounds — or more than 400 percent — at a cost 20 to 40 percent below that of conventional techniques.

Used asphalt, roofing shingles, and rubber tires are all being recycled and getting second lives as roadway surfacing materials.  Rubberized asphalt concrete made with a combination of regular asphalt concrete and ground-up tires — produces highly durable, skid-resistant and quiet pavement surfaces while using a material that would otherwise end up in landfills. One lane mile of roadway paved with a two-inch-thick surface of rubberized asphalt concrete consumes about 2,000 scrap tires.

So, all in all, it seems like the Mayor’s proposal is a good one, and it would behoove us to bite the bullet and fix the streets, and while we’re at it, continue to weave in more and more bike lanes.

If your thirst has not been quenched and you'd like more details on how potholes are formed as well as more specifics about Bay Area Streets, please click here.

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