Current State of California’s Highways

The preceding article lists Five Myths used as reasons for continuing to expand highways. Dan Walters is one of California’s most independent and highly-rated professional journalists. Here are excerpts from what he had to say in the December edition of CalMatters about the state of California’s highways. It’s pretty clear that in California there should be less highway expansion and more highway maintenance:

California is No. 1 — in Rough Highways


December 16, 2020 at 9:02 a.m.

Read More Here

Much has been said and written about the nation’s stark political divisions and a state-by-state map of November’s presidential election confirms them. California, not surprisingly, fares the worst in Money Geek calculations of roadway roughness, based on federal data. Anyone who has driven extensively in other states can attest that highways elsewhere are much more user-friendly [than travel in California that can be] literally a jarring experience.


Why California has such crappy roads is one of those nagging questions that defy easy answers.

Californians drive a lot, well over 300 billion miles a year, so one of the factors is that our highways get a lot of wear and tear.

However, lots of driving also consumes lots of fuel, more than a billion gallons a month, and generates lots of gas tax money. A few years ago, former Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature boosted fuel taxes sharply to the second-highest level of any state. At nearly 75 cents a gallon, including federal taxes, they are just behind those in Pennsylvania, which also has relatively bad roads.

Despite the tax increase, however, Money Geek says California is no better than mediocre in spending on highway maintenance and improvements at $13.95 per lane mile a year. That’s twice what Oklahoma, which has the best highways, spends, so California clearly hasn’t been getting much bang for its gas tax bucks.

The big tax increase, which also included a stiff hike in auto registration fees, raises an estimated $5 billion a year and was billed as a way to catch up on decades of maintenance neglect.

The money is going out the door. Earlier this year, the California Transportation Commission approved $17.4 billion in state and federal funds for nearly 900 projects that will, the commission’s chairman, Paul Van Konynenburg said, “make roads and bridges safer for California drivers (and) will save drivers money by fixing the potholes that can damage vehicles.”

The tax increase legislation requires the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to meet certain goals by 2027, including that 98% of the pavement on the state highway system be in good or fair condition and that at least an additional 500 highway bridges get fixed.

Will Californians actually see better roads, or will deterioration outpace even this big boost in spending? We may know by 2027.

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. For his entire article click on

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