San Luis Obispo County

California's infrastructure gets low grades in new report card

Locally, experts say "we're in good shape"

California's infrastructure gets low grades in new report card

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - California is not doing its homework when it comes to its infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers is giving the state a C- in its annual report card. But on the Central Coast, local experts say the grade is higher. 

The report card looked at 17 categories including roads, water, energy, and bridges. While California is doing better than the national average, the grade is still considered 'mediocre'. 

"Approximately 50% of bridges in the state have exceeded their design life and the backlog of recommended maintenance, repair and replacement work continues to grow," it reads. "Over 7% of California’s bridges are structurally deficient and California has ranks among the top states for bridges in 'poor' condition by bridge deck area."

“Every bridge has a shelf life and after 60-75 years there does come a time when every bridge needs to be replaced,” said Caltrans District 5 spokesman, Jim Shivers. 

However, Shivers say the 'structurally deficient' term sounds a lot more serious than it really is.

“This list simply means that they have identified bridges for future work. In the interim, they remain safe.”

The report identified some of the state's largest bridges along corridors such as I-5 in San Diego, Highway 101 in Los Angeles, and I-80 in Sacramento as "in need of major repair and rehabilitation."

The document recommended increasing state and local funding, and raising public awareness about the issues as solutions. 

No Central Coast structures were mentioned, but Shivers says his agency will be working on "the replacement of the Refugio bridges near Gaviota.”

“Overall, the bridges on the Central Coast are in very good shape," he said. "Every bridge in California is inspected every two years.”

In Santa Maria, the city is proposing 109 capital projects worth about $81 million.

"This includes development of the future landfill, and operational improvements for traffic at both the Betteravia Rd. and Highway 101 interchange, and the Broadway and Highway 101 interchange," City spokesman Mark Van de Kamp said in a statement. 

Gas tax revenues from the Road and Repair Accountability Act of 2017 (SB-1) are generating about $30 million in the next decade specifically for Santa Maria to help cover maintenance of city streets.

The work includes the digout and repair of failed asphalt areas, removal of existing traffic striping, grinding of the edges of the existing pavement, the placement of hot mix asphalt overlay, and then re-establishment of traffic striping. In 2018, the city contracted with Granite Construction to perform the $750,000 project. 

The report card also looked at energy infrastructure. California is faring even lower in this section with a D- grade.  

"Aging equipment, inferior design, and poor right-of-way vegetation management have caused electrical and oil/gas infrastructure incidents and, in some cases, resulted in deadly wildfires," the report says. "In another trend, the increased renewable energy contribution has had dramatic impacts on the overall capacity of the California electric grid." 

“We see a lot of great solutions, whether it's distributed energy resources, a solar storage, micro grids," said J.R. Killigrew, Director of Communications and Energy Programs at Monterey Bay Community Power, a community choice agency expanding to San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. "But also kinda lobbying and supporting the utilities who do own all the infrastructure to think about hardening their lines, under grounding their infrastructure.”

San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay cities joined MBCP in 2018. 

“We're gonna be serving all the residents and businesses starting in early 2020," said Killigrew.

The agency is looking to expand to Santa Maria, Guadalupe and other cities in SLO County. MBCP leaders are hosting two public forums on Wednesday, May 14 and Thursday, May 15 to talk to residents about the agency's services and answer questions. The meetings are open to everyone. 


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