Transportation Nation

Report: California's Bridges Crumbling -- and San Francisco's Are the Worst

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) A new report by transit advocacy group Transportation for America provides a sobering assessment of the condition of California's bridges: in short, not good.The report finds that one in eight bridges are structurally deficient in some way. In the Bay Area, that number rises to one in five; in San Francisco, it's more than one in three.

County Number of bridges Number of structurally deficient bridges Percentage of bridges that are structurally deficient Average annual daily traffic on structurally deficient bridges
San Francisco 116 40 34.5% 2,569,899
Alameda 601 130 21.6% 5,608,117
San Mateo 344 74 21.5% 3,064,075
Sonoma 601 121 20.1% 737,485
Santa Clara 939 182 19.4% 5,804,761
Contra Costa 560 105 18.8% 3,241,193
Marin 199 31 15.6% 1,117,587
Napa 150 23 15.3% 80,153

A bridge is considered "structurally deficient" when one of three bridge components – deck, superstructure, or substructure – receives a poor grade on a federal scale. The worst bridges receive low grades across the board. Of the 40 San Francisco bridges deemed structurally deficient, city officials oversee only five; four of those are currently slated for repair. Caltrans and other agencies are responsible for the rest.  The bridges that received the lowest rankings were by the Caltrain station at 22nd and 23rd Streets; the most highly-traveled structurally deficient bridge was the 5th St./Hwy 101 bridge.

The report did not assess the state's biggest, most iconic bridges – neither the Bay Bridge nor the Golden Gate bridge were included. Instead, it looked at the thousands of workaday bridges that most motorists hardly think of: the highway on-ramps and overpasses that connect freeways and surface streets. These bridges are, on average, just over 44 years old – slightly older than the national average of 42 years. Most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years.

The report notes that though California's bridges rank in the bottom third nationally, the state has used up all available federal funding to try and address the problem, even going so far as to shift funds designated for other purposes. The state spent $907 million on bridge repair in 2008. The report notes that across the country, repair needs far outstrip available funds: while funding has increased by $650 million over the past several years, the need has increased by $22.8 billion.

Read the full report here.

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Transportation Nation

Hiking Up Fees In Texas Could Help Congestion Problems, But Not Solve Them

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor of Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that he’ll encourage lawmakers to seek out more money for highway construction.

He said he won’t support a tax increase, but would possibly favor raising fees, namely on vehicle registration. Alan Clark, the director of transportation planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says if nothing is done, money for road projects could actually fall over the next ten years. “I’m very encouraged that the legislator is talking about it," says Clark, "and I think that there are many things they could do that would be a step in the right direction. Raising the vehicle registration fee could be one of those.”

Listen to the story here.

Clark says if everyone in the greater Houston area paid $20 more for vehicle registration, that would generate an additional $60 to $70 million a year. Clark says the extra money would help repair some of the roads and pay for some new projects in the region. But he says it wouldn’t solve all of Houston’s congestion problems.

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Transportation Nation

State vs County: Who Will Build Giant Ring Road Around Houston?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Grand Parkway Segment E

(Houston, TX -- Pat Hernandez and Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) A state-county debate over who will build a ring road around Houston is picking up steam and heading toward resolution this week, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy with the progress.

Harris County handed over responsibility to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Tuesday for building a segment of the Grand Parkway, a proposed 180-mile ring road that will cross seven counties around Greater Houston.

Fifteen months ago, Harris County took control of the project under the assumption TxDOT didn't have the money to build the road and the two planned to come to an agreement on how tolls would be collected and distributed. More recently, Harris County Commissioners challenged TxDOT to build a 15-mile segment from Interstate -10 to Highway 290 after the state said it has $425-million to spend on the project.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett was happy with Tuesday's vote to waive the county's right to build the Grand Parkway, also known as state highway 99. He says it means the Grand Parkway could be built sooner. "It will also then let us focus on other parts of our own toll road system. For example widening South Belt, looking at new projects, like Hempstead, and it'll allow us to focus on other transportation projects. And let the state build State Highway 99, which is the Grand Parkway."

Emmett says they have an advanced funding agreement with TxDOT, which includes reimbursement for the design and money already spent on the project. The Grand Parkway is expected to cost in excess of $5 billion when completed.

For him it’s a win-win: The state will begin construction on part of the Grand Parkway, and the county will be able to direct its energies on other transportation projects that could help ease traffic congestion. This is good news, says Robin Holzer, Chairwoman of Citizens’ Transportation Coalition.

“By all accounts the 290 corridor is the most congested transportation corridor in the entire Houston region. So if letting the Grand Parkway go gets the county to focus our tax dollars on a project that will make a difference – like the Hempstead managed lanes, or perhaps a rail project in the northwest corridor – that’s a good thing.”

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Transportation Nation

What Lies Beneath: Pavement Edition

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Carl Monismith, Director of the UC Pavement Research Center, and Jim Signore, the center's Assistant Director. Photo by Casey Miner.

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) If you’re driving right now, or riding a bus, trolley, taxicab or your bike after a long day at work, your mind might be on the traffic, or what to cook for dinner (or why won’t that guy turn off his blinker already?). But have you ever thought about what’s underneath your wheels? The actual road?

It’s the kind of thing we only really notice when it’s not working (ahem, potholes), but pavement is everywhere. The U.S. has four million miles of paved roads, and close to ten percent of them are in California. And as KALW learned, "Pavements are complicated. They’re not the easiest thing in the world to build...It may look simple, but (it) really is an engineered structure."

KALW visited the U.C. Pavement Research Center to get some answers about just what goes into making what’s beneath our feet.  For instance: How do you know if you've made a good batch of pavement? "When you mix asphalt and aggregate together and come out of mixer, it looks like maggots in the garbage can. It’s an indication that the mix is pretty good."

Hear the story at KALW News.

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City Mulls Remedies for BQE Noise and Pollution

Monday, November 29, 2010

There are only a few days remaining for citizens to give their feedback on proposals to reconnect two Brooklyn neighborhoods severed decades ago by a highway.
[CutID: <DAVID:DigaSystem\NEWS>PB8-USER4_ADD76EBD7F4843119D9ACD1EC590B483.WAV
Time: 6s
Title: news201011_BQE_highway
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The Brooklyn Queens Expressway cuts off the Brooklyn waterfront from Carroll Gardens. Planners are suggesting three different plans, involving more trees, sound barriers, and even so-called green canopies to reduce noise and pollution. 
Madelyn Wils [WILLS] is with the Economic Development Corporation. She says the idea is to make the area more attractive to businesses and residents.
[CutID: <DAVID:DigaSystem\NEWS>PB8-USER4_F6B7612D0D9A45BEB1A047655E754DA9.WAV
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Title: news201011_BQE_wyls
Out-cue: ]
[well they call it the ditch and it's very noisy. And it makes people not want to cross.]
There are only a few days remaining for citizens to give feedback on proposals to reconnect two Brooklyn neighborhoods severed decades ago by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

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Transportation Nation

HOT Lanes to Launch in Houston, Let Drivers Pay to Avoid Traffic

Thursday, November 04, 2010

(Houston, TX –– Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Houston is planning to let solo drivers pay to drive in a special, faster lane, for the right price. The plan is expected to reduce traffic overall, though it raises some equity concerns that rich drivers can buy a faster commute while everyone else pays the price.

In its latest budget, Metro put aside $20 million in federal funds to turn 84 miles of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes into High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. That means cars with just one person in them will be able to pay a fee to access the HOV lane and skip the stop and go traffic. The lanes be controlled by a transit agency, not the Harris County Toll Road Authority, the agency normally in charge of toll roads in the area.

Houston Metro president and CEO George Greanias says the existing HOV lanes are practically empty around 80 percent of the time. "With the exception of just some peak periods, there’s usually additional capacity there that’s not getting used," says Greanias. "In the meantime, you’ve got the lanes adjacent to HOV lanes that are congested due to all the heavy traffic."

Map of Proposed Hot Lanes

Carpools, vanpools, and buses will be able to

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Bike Commuting on Rise, NJ Road Work Suspended Again, and Update on ARC

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Christie expected to pull the plug on ARC (WNYC) (Marketplace). Meanwhile, NJ transportation officials suspended about 100 early-stage road and rail projects yesterday. (AP via ABC news)

The number of people commuting by bike is on the rise. Slowly -- but steadily. (Wired)

Ray LaHood got an earful from Staten Islanders yesterday, who "face the longest commute in the entire country." (NY1)

A proposed bike lane drew more crowds at a Vancouver city council meeting than a discussion of a future transit link. (The Province)

Albany grapples with a parking plan, debates a "system that uses market forces and incentives -- rather than 'rationing and command and control.'"  (Times Union)

School bus driver training varies "wildly" from district to district in Georgia. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Fill That Hole! was once just a public works rallying cry. Now it's an iPhone app in London. (Good)

The New York Times reviews the new musical "In Transit," which chronicles subway life: "Some will scoff at those searching for enlightenment in the crowded underground world. Yet that wide-eyed wonder may remind others of why they came to the city in the first place."

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The Brian Lehrer Show

No Light at the End of the ARC Tunnel?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Andrea Bernstein, WNYC reporter and director of the Transportation Nation blog, and Zachary Fink, state house correspondent for NJN News, discuss the possibility of money intended for a New York-to-New Jersey tunnel under the Hudson being redirected to New Jersey's roads.

What do you make of these developments? Are you an NJ->NYC commuter? How would this affect your day? Let us know!

Comments [45]

Transportation Nation

Driving On Unkempt Streets May Be Costing Houstonians More Than They Think

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Wendy Siegle, KUHF News Houston)  Driving along Broadway in southeast Houston can be tense. Potholes, uneven pavement, and jarring dips in the road lie in ambush on every block. Whether your car will be able to dodge all the hazardous obstacles or come out on the other side with a busted suspension is anyone’s guess. Perhaps that’s too harsh of an assessment, but roads like Broadway are one of the reasons Houstonians shell out an average of $438 a year in additional operating costs, according to a recent report by the national transportation research group TRIP. “That’s money you would not be spending if the roads were all in good condition,” said Frank Moretti, TRIP's director of policy and research.

Listen to full story here.

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Transportation Nation

Report: Chronic Underinvestment In Texas Roads Will Cost Big In The Future

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Wendy Siegle, KUHF News Houston) Times are tough for America’s roads. States are facing budget shortfalls of more than $127 billion for 2010-2011, leaving transportation agencies with limited funding for maintenance and improvement projects. It seems streets will remain neglected for a while yet. But what’s the price of postponing all that much needed work on our roadways? Here in Texas, members from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) recently prepared a report for state lawmakers to answer that question.

The document notes the projected costs to Texas’ economy, businesses, and to Texans themselves. According to TTI, if the state continues its current spending plan, the cost to Texas’ economy from deteriorating mobility is more than $1.1 trillion over the next 25 years. Other findings include:

  • Loss of Jobs: “If Texas cannot maintain current mobility levels and, instead, continues to spend at planned levels, an estimated 288,000 jobs could be lost by 2035.”
  • Loss of businesses: “Deteriorating infrastructure and decreasing mobility reduces the ability of Texas to compete, both in terms of product cost and the ability to attract and retain a qualified workforce”
  • Maintenance Versus Reconstruction: “Reconstruction costs can be more than three times the cost of 25 years of maintenance. Plus, proper maintenance can extend the life of a roadway by as much as 18 years.”
  • Increased Congestion: “By 2035, delay will cause the average commuter to spend almost 140 hours stuck in traffic compared to 38 hours in 2010.”

LINK: Full Report.

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Transportation Nation

California roads in rough shape – and the Bay Area’s are the worst

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Have a bumpy ride to work this morning? You’re not alone. A new report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, finds that the country’s road infrastructure is in terrible shape – and California’s is particularly bad.

Of the top 20 worst areas identified in the report, eight are in California, and three of those are in the Bay Area, including San Francisco/Oakland (counted together), San Jose and Concord.

Bad roads aren’t just uncomfortable; they’re also expensive. Nationally, substandard roads cost the average driver $400 a year over and above the normal cost of owning a car; in the Bay Area it’s more like $700-$750. With more than two-thirds of their roads in poor condition, San Jose drivers pay the most, but San Francisco/Oakland drivers aren’t far behind.

With the economy in its current condition, things aren’t likely to improve anytime soon: TRIP estimates that the state needs an extra $4 billion a year in road investment to keep them in shape. Nationally, it's $39 billion. For context, that's 80% of the Obama Administration's budget for its proposed infrastructure bank.

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The Takeaway

Obama to Congress: Fix Roads, Add Jobs

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

President Barack Obama is talking about the economy all week. Yesterday, he delivered a jobs speech before a whooping crowd in Milwaukee, Wis., where he called on Congress to swiftly approve a new stimulus plan: one that would devote at least an additional $50 billion to upgrade the nation's infrastructure.

Comments [1]

The Takeaway

The Last Great American Highway

Monday, September 06, 2010

The history of economic development in the United States has always been connected to the messy business of opening up trade routes. Whether it was the Erie Canal, which for many threatened to cut through their quaint home towns, or the thousands of miles of railroad track and highways strewn across the country, the same has been true: new transportation routes brought development, shipping and a lot of change.


Transportation Nation

When a bridge dies: life on the infrastructure frontier

Thursday, March 25, 2010


(Collin Campbell)

(Chimney Rock, VT - Transportation Nation) - Many people who live around Lake Champlain remember where they were when they got the news.


For Tim Kayhart, it was 2 p.m. on October 16th.  He was chopping corn in a field next to the Champlain Bridge in Addison, Vermont. A neighbor pulled over, walked up to him in the field and told him the span had just been closed for good; scheduled for demolition.  "It felt like a brick wall," Kayhart said.


Tim Kayhart and his brother have 1,7000 acres split between New York and Vermont. The livestock, feed and fertilizer they once shuttled over the bridge will now have to go by ferry across Lake Champlain.

Kayhart’s mother and father bought the dairy farm that he and his brother now work on in 1979.  Their collection of cows and a handful of red barns sits about half a mile from where a bridge used to be. As the business grew, the Kayharts shopped for more space in New York. The land was cheaper, the soil was better and they settled on a property four miles away, across the lake. The two farms came to work so well together that they trucked manure from the cows in Vermont to fertilize fields in New York.


On October 16, the New York State Department of Transportation said a recent inspection of piers that supported the bridge found they were no longer structurally sound.  The bridge would be closed immediately.  In that instant, the distance between Kayhart's farms went from four miles to 150 miles, via a long drive around the southern end of the lake. 

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