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Press Release · March 13, 2003

Rough Road Ahead: State’s Infrastructure Deficiencies Cast Long Shadow

Despite Increased Investment, Shortfalls in Education, Transportation, Water May Call For Controversial Remedies

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 13, 2003 — A study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) starkly highlights the demands and systemic failures that could overwhelm California’s infrastructure over the next two decades.  Based on new data and new interviews with over 100 state officials, the analysis finds that by the year 2020 – when the state’s population is projected to pass 50 million – supplying enough water and space on roads and in classrooms will require determined, if politically challenging, approaches.

After decades of inadequate spending and deferred maintenance, the state plans to spend $56 billion on expansion and upkeep over the next five years – about $21 billion more than it spent between 1990 and 2000.  However, David Dowall, a PPIC visiting fellow and professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, who co-authored the study with Jan Whittingon, says even if current budget woes don’t derail the increased expenditure, the new dollars still won’t be enough to meet California’s looming demand.  Furthermore, meeting the state’s future needs requires fundamental changes and improvements in the way infrastructure is planned, delivered, and maintained.

“The state sometimes allocates funds without basic information about demand and needed capacity.  There are also problems delivering projects efficiently and keeping up with maintenance,” says Dowall.  “We will not be able to accommodate future growth unless we address these issues and start planning and prioritizing projects, introducing demand-oriented methods of management and ensuring proper maintenance.”

Among the study’s many suggestions, some may require unprecedented political will, such as increasing gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, instituting a system of congestion-pricing (charging for use at the most crowded times of day) on the state’s busiest bridges and highways, and encouraging students at state colleges and universities to graduate in four years by charging a fee to those who take longer.  The report, Making Room for the Future: Rebuilding California’s Infrastructure, argues that these strategies should be considered to recover from years of declining investment and could deliver huge rewards.  The authors note that programs should be developed to ensure that fee hikes do not limit access to services by low- or middle-income residents.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues.  The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.