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The California Department of Transportation has been rebuilding parts of Interstate 80 between the city of Auburn and the Nevada state line. Part of this work was the elevation of bridges to 16 feet 6 inches above the road surface so they can accommodate larger trucks. The final project, completed in March, was the elevation of a bridge in Newcastle built way back in 1959. Larger trucks no longer have to exit the freeway for that stretch, and the entire project is a boon to California commerce. Some 170,000 commercial trucks and other travelers use the I-80 route daily, and as Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee notes, “an estimated $4.7 million worth of consumer goods crosses the summit each hour, making it one of the busiest commercial corridors in the country,” one that “connects California commerce to the rest of the United States.” This vital artery, however, was not the only one in need of renovation.
As veteran observer Dan Walters notes, California motorists pay some of the nation’s highest fuel taxes, yet California highways are “among the nation’s worst.” Governor Brown says the state needs another $59 billion for maintenance and repair. Yet, as we noted, State Auditor Elaine Howle finds that Caltrans has “weak cost controls” that “create opportunities for fraud, waste and abuse.” This comes at a time when the number of highway lanes in need of maintenance has increased from 11,053 miles to 15,272 miles.
The $59 billion for road maintenance and repair approaches the estimated $68 billion the state’s high-speed rail project would cost. With 36 miles of tunnels through the mountains north of Los Angeles, the bullet train’s final cost would surely be much higher. Despite other obstacles, and fading demand, the state proceeds with the project. Politicians would do better to set aside this boondoggle and lift the bridge on improvement of the state’s roads and highways. In the manner of I-80, these arteries connect Californians to commerce and carry workers to their jobs.