On a recent haul on I-5 from Oregon almost all the way to Mexico, Chatlain says, “I saw no construction going on out there.” California’s I-5 placed third for Worst Highway Segment.
The state’s fourth straight year in the Worst Roads’ top five follows the launch of Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s Strategic Growth Plan, which is built on the back of infrastructure investment. According to Caltrans’ overview of its role in the plan, $107 billion in transport investment is called for by 2017, though recent reports have highly cited broad budget deficits looming for the Golden State.
‘Still a killer’
After its debut in the Worst Roads’ top five last year at No. 3, Oklahoma seems to be improving with this year’s fifth-place finish. Owner-operator Zak Hargraves calls U.S. 69, the main route from Dallas through Oklahoma and on to Missouri, as the primary rough road, though “they are working on it,” he says.
“A lot of it was the early concrete design,” he says, a nationwide problem as he sees it. “Poor sub-base, joints, etc. I noticed a few weeks ago that the northbound lanes have been repaired a bit.” But southbound, he says, is “still a killer.”
More survey respondents, however, named the state’s more heavily traveled I-40 as the Worst Highway Segment – it took second place in that category. Improvements to some sections are on the way. The state legislature this year approved an eight-year plan that includes $2 billion in expenditures on high-volume highways, including reconstruction of the cross-town section of I-40 in Oklahoma City.
California cities among top 10 urban regions with poor major roadways.
REGION/Percentage of roads in poor condition
1. Los Angeles 65%
2. San Francisco/Oakland 62%
4. San Jose 60%
5. San Diego 53%
8. Sacramento 46%
California has a disproportionate share of urban areas with major roadways in poor condition, according to highway researcher TRIP’s March 2008 report on the subject. Five of the eight metro areas named encompass I-5, the third-place ranking worst highway segment in our Highway Report Card survey.
While Texas continued its now five-year dominance of the Best Roads category, owner-operator Bruce Bryant says the Lone Star State’s portion of I-10 east of Houston is equally bad or worse than that in Louisiana. “Louisiana gets blamed for a lot,” Bryant says, “but it actually starts in Texas, just east of Houston all the way to the state line.” It’s a big state, however, and owner-operators single out the large majority of I-10 and I-20 there as superlative.
- Georgia, Tennessee (tie)
As recently as 2005, Missouri scored second for Worst Roads overall. State DOT director Pete Rahn well remembers “having to answer those tough questions when I-44 was named one of the worst three roads in the country.” Clearly, the state’s Smooth Roads Initiative has gone a long way toward improving truckers’ interstate highway hauls. Rahn says the turnaround is a result of two main factors:
- In 2004, voters approved directing one-half of vehicle sales taxes and fees to the DOT.
- A shift to a broader long-term strategy for highway improvements. Most state DOTs “make decisions based on the project,” Rahn says. “My working philosophy is to concentrate on the system rather than the projects.”
Cattle rancher and small-fleet owner Tom Yeargain has seen that improvement in his sector of the state: “They’re getting a lot better, particularly in the southwest. They’ve got U.S. 71 four lanes all the way to Arkansas.” A brand-new bypass of Bella Vista, Ark., furthermore, is on the ground to the state line and awaiting Arkansas to fund its completion.
All the same, a precipitous drop in vehicle sales tax revenue in late 2008, as well as an ongoing drop in fuels tax revenue, makes maintaining the state’s improved record difficult, Rahn says.
Best Highway Segment