Hub's roads are the pits, study finds
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff | April 29, 2004
It's bumpy out there, according to a report issued yesterday by a nonprofit transportation group that lists the Boston region among the worst in the nation when it comes to the deteriorating conditions of its roads.
Worst of all, says the report, those conditions are costing drivers money.
The report by The Road Information Program -- a group funded in part by asphalt manufacturers and road-building contractors -- says 54 percent of Boston's roads are in poor condition, 25 percent are mediocre, 13 percent are in fair condition, and 8 percent are in good shape. The group based its report on 2002 data collected by the Federal Highway Administration.
The survey looked at road conditions on interstates, freeways, and "critical local routes," and did not examine ancillary roads, which are some of Boston's worst, according to city officials.
As a result, the report estimates, Boston drivers are paying an average of $547 per year in vehicle maintenance, while the national average is $400.
Los Angeles topped the list, with 66 percent of its roads in poor condition and motorists paying an average of $705 in yearly vehicle maintenance.
The data used also included the old Central Artery, which ran through the heart of downtown Boston when the Federal Highway Administration gathered its data. That bumpy stretch has since been replaced by the underground tunnels of the Big Dig.
Although The Road Information Program is funded in part by industries that benefit financially from more spending on roads, the organization's spokeswoman, Carolyn R. Bonifas, said the group "didn't pull these figures out of thin air. . . . Urban roads are deteriorating pretty quickly, and motorists are throwing their money down the potholes."
Pavement conditions in metropolitan areas have deteriorated nationwide, according to the report, which lists Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., San Francisco-Oakland, San Diego, New Orleans, Boston, and Sacramento as having the worst roads for cities with populations of 500,000 or more.
The report blamed an increase in urban traffic and spending cuts for road improvements as the main culprits. Overall, the report found travel on urban roads increased by 35 percent from 1990 to 2002, while urban travel by large commercial trucks grew by 51 percent from 1990 to 2002.
Overall vehicle travel is expected to increase by approximately 42 percent by 2020 while the level of heavy truck travel nationally is projected to increase by approximately 49 percent.
The report was released three days after a Boston City Council hearing on potholes where city Public Works Commissioner Joseph F. Casazza blamed utility companies for the state of the city's streets.
"I happen to think we're doing a pretty good job," Casazza told city councilors, among them Councilor At Large Maura A. Hennigan, who has worked to get the city to be more aggressive about fixing potholes and other street fissures.
Told of the new report yesterday, Hennigan said she thinks that if the data had included all of Boston's roads, the outcome could have been far worse. Hennigan said that while an estimated 30 percent of potholes occur naturally on Boston's streets, most of the dips and drops -- about 70 percent -- are caused by filled utility trenches that have failed.
The city currently requires utility companies to temporarily fill trenches they have dug, then pay the city a fee to perform permanent repairs. However, the money collected from those fees is rarely used to fix the trenches and is more often used by the city for other purposes, such as complete street pavings, she said.
"We're collecting this restoration fee and it creates a disincentive for people to fill these holes properly," Hennigan said. "We're falling into these holes, we're driving over these holes . . . and it doesn't have to be this way."
? Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company