California is the epicenter of innovative technologies. We take pride in being the home of Silicon Valley and the birthplace of groundbreaking products.
But most of us forget that we need strong infrastructure systems to ensure we can continue such success and keep pushing the envelope.
I know — in our digital era of smartphones being able to broadcast our every selfie, the methodical process of climbing out of our infrastructure deficit is not the sexiest of topics.
But here’s the thing: The majority of California’s transportation and other infrastructure systems were built between the 1950s and the early 1970s — when California only had a population of 27 million and a much smaller, less diverse economy.
Today, California is home to more than 38 million people and projections show the population will grow to 50 million by 2040 — all of whom travel our roads, rails and airways for work, vacation and other activities. Californians currently register nearly 32 million vehicles per year and drive 324 billion miles annually.
These millions of Californians and much of the nation also rely on California’s infrastructure systems to quickly get local products such as fruits and vegetables to their supermarkets as well as import and export products through our state’s ports.
This is not to say that our state cannot accommodate growth — we can. But we need to ensure that our transportation, water delivery and freight systems are updated and strong enough to not only accommodate California’s residents, but also help them thrive.
Fortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown knows the critical status of our infrastructure and set aggressive goals to improve the existing deficit, such as pushing forward the nation’s first high-speed rail system, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and encouraging the Legislature to tackle the deferred maintenance of our roads and bridges by convening a special session.
The Legislature has started to make progress in the special session on a deal to tackle the billions in deferred roadway maintenance costs — which are currently estimated at $59 billion. With California being an international trade gateway, we must be able to move billions of dollars worth of goods and services across a massive state and through our international ports without our roadways and bridges falling apart.
Right now, the state’s current fuel excise tax — on which much of transportation funding depends — is sufficient to fund only $2.3 billion of work annually, leaving $5.7 billion in unfunded roadway repairs each year. California needs to find more reliable funding streams to repair and build out transportation corridors. By broadening the revenue streams and moving toward a model where all road users equitably pay their fair share, we will ensure our roadways are repaired, upgraded and expanded in a timely manner.