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By Matthew DeForest, Dec. 7, 2021

On Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed into law the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The largest infrastructure investment in decades will include $110 billion allocated to states for road and bridge improvements, $66 billion toward railway projects and $39 billion for public transit systems, among several other investments.

The large commuter population of Cal Poly Pomona is set to be one of many beneficiaries of the heavy investment the bill makes in California’s roadways. California will receive approximately $45 billion in total funding, $30 billion of funding will be set aside to repair roadways, freeways and bridges across the state.

Brady Collins, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, believes the impact of this funding on Californians’ lives will depend largely on the management of the money by local agencies.

“California has spent a lot of money in the past on improving highways and making them smoother,” said Collins. “But if you ask most people if freeways are looking better, they would say ‘no.’ That’s a result of where the freeways are being fixed and how well the government is communicating to the public how tax dollars are being spent.”

A further $9.45 billion will be given to cities like Los Angeles and Fontana, California, among others, to improve public transportation systems. The bill will also provide funds for $3.5 billion of water infrastructure improvements and $1.5 billion in airport improvements. Smaller amounts will be dedicated to upgrades of electric vehicle charging networks, statewide internet access and wildfire prevention projects.

California’s roadways have been a burden on the public for years, consistently making it a top concern. Nonprofit research group TRIP found that congestion on Los Angeles metro area roads and highways costs drivers an average of $1,774 per year. Riverside County and San Bernardino County area drivers lose $1,365 per year due to congestion and disrepair.

“Our population is so high and it’s so dense here; the roads are being used more often than places like Tennessee,” said alumna Erika Trujillo (’18, civil engineering). “We need to fund public areas like roads. The way I think about it is if you are always wearing the same pair of shoes, they are going to get messed up.”

In an effort to minimize the issues plaguing California roadways, voters approved the Road Repair and Accountability Act in 2017. Commonly known as the “gas tax,” this law is meant to raise an estimated $52.4 billion increasing total investments in California roadways to almost $100 billion.

Unfortunately, this large investment may fall short of the state’s needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent infrastructure report card grades California at a C- overall. Roads specifically, are graded at a D and the ASCE recommends at least $130 billion over the next decade to bring California’s roads into a state of good repair.

According to Dragos Andrei, a professor in the Civil Engineering Department, local governments in California suffer the most as a result of underfunding. Andrei is an expert in pavement design and construction who also consults with local agencies about roadway construction and planning.

“Cities and counties keep and maintain about 80% of paved public roadways, and they only have about 30% of the money they would need to keep roads in their current condition — not improve anything — but to keep them where they are today,” said Andrei. “That’s scary, right? But this has been the reality for the last 30-50 years.”

Andrei stresses that CalTrans and local governments cannot rush into spending the money from new investments. He believes the best path forward for these agencies is to create a plan for financially and environmentally sustainable maintenance of roads and highways.

Having the responsibility to spend billions of dollars puts immense pressure on the state government. This pressure is felt not only in a financial sense but in a political sense as well. Infrastructure investment was a major campaign promise of Gov. Gavin Newsom, an outspoken supporter of the gas tax and public transit investments.

Collins urges students and residents alike to become more involved in their local governments. He believes public support for infrastructure improvement is a great way for locals to ensure improvements are made in the right areas to benefit the most citizens possible.

California residents can view all current public works projects being overseen by CalTrans and get updates on the CalTrans website. Pomona’s public works department can be contacted for comments and concerns on their webpage or at the phone number 909-620-226.

Courtesy of Howard P

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