The people who live on bumpy Charles Hill Road in Orinda have something to cheer about because of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package.
Orinda – which ranks lowest among Bay Area cities for local road conditions – plans to spend some of its job stimulus money to fix the narrow, winding road where drivers regularly steer around potholes and big cracks.
The condition of Charles Hill Road is not an isolated problem. Cities and counties throughout California are struggling to hold roads together as voters resist tax and fee hikes, and road maintenance funds heavily dependent on sales tax decline as people drive less and buy less.
“Our street has gone from being really bad, to downright dangerous,” Nancy Katz, a Charles Hill Road resident, wrote in an email. “From huge and deep potholes that wreck your car, to the fact that we all now try to work around them (so we don’t further wreck our cars) so we drive around them, which has many of us driving in the middle of the street.”
(This reporter has visited friends on the street and I can attest to hitting some body jarring potholes. Still, as reporter Paul Thissen reported in the Lamorinda Sun, Orinda officials say it’s not the worst road in town – just one that can meet the guidelines for the stimulus funds)
Despite its affluence, Orinda has two factors making road funding a sticky issue: steep terrain which can shift and be gouged out during rain storms, and a scarcity of stores to generate sales tax and lack of big industries to generate property taxes.
Nancy’s husband Danny worked on two unsuccessful Orinda ballot measures to raise money for local road fixes. “Orindans were too cheap and short sighted to see the lasting benefit of having improved roads,” he wrote.
Raising taxes to pay for roads is no easy task. California hasn’t raised its 18-cents-per-gallon gas tax since 1991, and the state budget deal signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Thursday eliminated a proposal to raise the state gas tax by 12 cents per gallon. Raising gas taxes in a recession is a hard sale.
“We’re not getting extra money from Sacramento to fix potholes, and they’re taking away money from public transportation,” said Amy Worth, an Orinda city councilwoman who serves on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
The commission, an allocator of transportation funds in the Bay Area, will consider on Wednesday a proposal to divy up $490 million of federal economic stimulus funds – including $150 million for local road rehablitation and $270 million to rehabiltate buses, BART tracks and other equipment. Cities get road money allocations based on their population and miles of roadways.
The Bay Area figures to get another $500 million or more in stimulus funds, but the region must compete for those other funds, which will be allocated by the state and federal governments.
Meanwhile, Nancy Katz said she expects the federal stimulus funds won’t be enough to fix all the problems on her road. “The problem has been bad for so long you almost become numb to it,” she said. “But I’m glad something is being done to help.”
Take a look at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s plan for allocating stimulus funds and comment below.