Golden State Highways Are A California Nightmare California roads once were the envy of the world. But like a lot of things in the Golden State these days, they’re not what they used to be. Federal Highway Administration data show that of the 20 major urban areas with the worst roadway conditions, eight are in California, with 64 percent in "poor condition."
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Golden State Highways Are A California Nightmare

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Golden State Highways Are A California Nightmare

Golden State Highways Are A California Nightmare

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, we kick off a new weeklong series on road safety, and what better place to start than California, a state well-known for its car culture. It is not however known for its roads, some of the worst in the nation. A recent study ranked California 49th out of the 50 states for the quality of its pavement. Just imagine having to drive hundreds of miles every day on those bumpy roads.

NPR's Ina Jaffe took a ride with one man who does just that.

(Soundbite of a vehicle)

INA JAFFE: At 7:00 in the morning, truck driver Randy Park(ph) has dropped off his first load of crushed limestone at a plant near the Port of Los Angeles, and he's heading back to the desert to pick up some more.

Mr. RANDY PARK (Truck Driver): I got this truck the first of this year. It has 140,000 on it already.

JAFFE: The truck belongs to Park's employer, Apex Logistics, and it's a beauty. A 2009 Freightliner with a 10-speed automatic chrome on the dash and enough toggle switches for a jet plane. Underneath Park's seat, an air bag provides extra cushioning. He needs all the help he can get.

Mr. PARK: See the pothole? Oh, right there. That's one little hole.

JAFFE: Our heads snap back as we hit the edge of the pit. Of the 20 urban areas in the nation with the worst pavement, eight are in California and Los Angeles tops the list.

Mr. PARK: Listen.

JAFFE: The trailers that Park is hauling clatter over a patchwork of asphalt and concrete.

Mr. PARK: That's the (unintelligible) spring beam, the frame.

JAFFE: You can feel every seam of every patch on the roadway. You also feel all the cracks and holes that repair crews have yet to touch. So we bounce down a stretch of the I-10 like a couple of bobble head dolls. Park says he changes his route sometimes to avoid the rougher sections.

Mr. PARK: When you hit a pothole enough times, it jars the front end. Then the front end gets out of line, then the tires starts wearing funny, and then you start cracking the frame. Eventually, it just tears up equipment.

JAFFE: Truck drivers aren't the only ones who dodge the impact of rough roads. In San Francisco, more than 60 percent of the streets are in poor condition. And you think that's bad in a car? Try it on a bike.

Mr. NEAL PATEL (Community Planner, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition): People can crash and people have broken bones, unfortunately.

JAFFE: Says Neal Patel, a community planner with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Members can't repair the streets themselves, he says, but they try to help out San Francisco's two-wheel travelers by outlining potholes with long-lasting white chalk.

Mr. PATEL: When you have something that's circled, you know something is up and coming and you're able to avoid it in the appropriate amount of time.

JAFFE: Whatever your vehicle, bad roads are costly as well as dangerous, says Frank Moretti, the director of policy and research with the transportation advocacy group called TRIP.

Mr. FRANK MORETTI (Director of Policy and Research, TRIP): Quite simply, the rougher the roads in your community that you're driving on, the quicker that vehicles are going to start fall apart.

JAFFE: TRIP partnered with state transportation officials on the report that ranked road conditions across the country. They even calculated just how much bad roads cost individual motorists in additional maintenance. The national average is $335 a year. And in L.A.?

Mr. MORETTI: Motorists in the Los Angeles urban area are paying the greatest additional vehicle operating costs of $746 per year.

JAFFE: Since 1990, vehicle traffic across the country has gone up 36 percent and states can't keep up with the stress that puts on the roads. California, for example, is projecting a deficit in the next year and a half of more than $20 billion. But many states right now are strapped for cash, and if it weren't for the federal stimulus, says Moretti, they might find their roads in even worse shape.

Mr. MORETTI: Stimulus funding was a very helpful down payment to hold their ground, if you will. The challenge now moving forward, of course, will be to put in place a long-term program that can start to turn the ship around.

(Soundbite of a vehicle)

JAFFE: Until that happens, Randy Park will continue to bump across California highways, changing his route now and then to avoid the very worst patches.

Mr. PARK: Try to save the equipment and my kidneys and my liver and my back. Well, usually, your lower back. You might have a sore back later.

JAFFE: Despite the aches and pains, Park has been driving a truck for 17 years and he likes the job. If only he were paid by the bump, he'd be on Easy Street.

Mr. PARK: What a ride, huh?

JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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