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June 28, 2011 > Bay Area pavement conditions

Bay Area pavement conditions

"Pothole Report" highlights strategies for safer, greener roads and cities' need for funding

Submitted By Metropolitan Transportation Commission

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 on June 22, 2011, 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 taken in 2006.

The 2010 pavement assessment appears in a new MTC report, "The Pothole Report: Can the Bay Area Have Better Roads?," which 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 primer on the cost and life-cycle of pavement. The report examines key factors affecting the condition of our roads, and catalogs the daunting challenges facing public works departments in the region, including a serious need for greater funding. On a 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.

Leaders and Laggards, by the Numbers
The City of Brentwood is the Bay Area jurisdiction with the highest-ranked pavement in 2010, with a PCI score of 86, a one-point improvement on 2009. This is the third successive year that Brentwood has led the region. Other top-ranked cities for 2010 (and their PCI scores) were: Belvedere, Marin County (84); Dublin, Alameda County (82); Los Altos, Santa Clara County (82); and Foster City, San Mateo County (81).

At the other end of the scale, the City of Rio Vista had a PCI score of 42 for 2010, down three points from its 2009 ranking. Other jurisdictions that fared badly (and their PCI scores) were Sonoma County (45 - up one point from 2009's lowest-in-the-region PCI score of 44); Larkspur, Marin County (45); St. Helena, Napa County (46); and Orinda, Contra Costa County (49).

Locally, Union City scored 78, up two points on 2009; Alameda County, 72 (no change on the previous year); Hayward (no change), Milpitas (down one point), Newark (no change), 69; and Fremont (down two points), 64.

On the positive side, The Pothole Report highlights the City of El Cerrito's efforts 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 $21.2M in 2006 to $500,000 in 2010, 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 re-surfaced streets with little or no distress. PCI scores between 80 and 89 are "very good," and pavement has 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. Major repairs cost five to 10 times more than routine maintenance, so these streets are at a 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 describes a couple of exciting developments in pavement-management 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 smoothes the mix back onto the roadway. While not appropriate for all local roadways, this re-paving method can cut asphalt rehabilitation costs by 20 percent to 40 percent and 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 $2M 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 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.

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 of these promising techniques are attractive but with a region-wide average PCI score of 66, the Bay Area's city streets and county roads are reaching the point 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 region's pavement conditions will deteriorate to an average PCI reading of 45 - in the "poor" range - by the year 2035.

To bring Bay Area pavement up to a "good" condition (PCI of 75), the region needs to triple current maintenance expenditures, from the present level of $351M 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 MTC Chair and San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, "attention to the cost of maintaining streets and roads at a good state of repair should be a high priority."

MTC's new Pothole Report is available at

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