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LA’s Worst Roads Might Not Improve Anytime Soon

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For poorly maintained streets, Metro’s sales tax increase proposal might be the only hope

It’s no secret that LA’s streets aren’t in great shape. According to the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, more than one-third of the city’s streets are in "poor" shape, and a 2015 analysis by transportation think tank TRIP suggested that number could be even higher, with 73 percent of LA roads in bad disrepair. In the U.S., only the San Francisco Bay Area has more roads in lousy condition. A 2014 study by TRIP found that poorly maintained streets cost Angeleno drivers about $955 yearly.

Unfortunately, as KPCC reports, it could be quite a while before LA’s worst roads improve. In part, that’s because of a policy that prioritizes maintenance for roads that are already in pretty good condition. Eighty percent of money allotted to road improvement goes to thoroughfares that have received an A, B, or C in the city’s letter grade system. The remaining money covers the more extensive repairs needed on streets graded D or F. This triaging system ensures that as many roads as possible are kept in good shape. But it also all but guarantees that the city’s worst roads stay that way.

To be fair, LA’s roads have improved slightly over the past few years; this year’s citywide score of 63 was up one point from last year’s mark. Meanwhile, 46 percent of streets now have A or B ratings, which is a decent-sized increase from 40.5 percent in 2011. Still, more significant improvements are probably a ways off.

The city wants to bring its road quality score up to around 80, but the public works budget of $150 million for repairs isn’t quite enough to make that happen. The city is replacing a longtime asphalt plant in order to produce better quality products at a lower cost. However, there is no plan to reinvest the savings into more roadwork. Instead, Public Works is counting on approval of Metro’s proposed countywide sales tax increase. If that measure passes, some of the money would go cities, where it could be spent on badly needed infrastructure improvements.

Drivers who often find themselves traveling on Venice Boulevard will certainly be glad for those extra funds. With a truly awful score of 49.7, Venice is in worse condition than just about any other major street in the city.