The Texas Transportation Institute in their 2005 Urban Mobility Report estimated that in 2003 alone, residents in the Los Angeles area endured more than 50 hours of travel delay per person, 93 hours per peak traveler. That same study ranks Los Angeles first among urban areas in the annual cost of travel delay to commuters, estimating the time and fuel costs at over $10 million in 2003. The San Francisco/Oakland area ranks second in delay time, with 72 hours of annual delay per peak traveler. These costs cannot begin to account for the lost opportunities to businesses and individuals that result from unpredictable traffic congestion. In order to maintain this debilitating level of congestion, Los Angeles would need to add 232 lane-miles of infrastructure annually and San Francisco would need 69 lane-miles. To significantly decrease the congestion would require a far more significant investment in infrastructure.
It doesn’t end with roads. California needs up to $679 million to rehabilitate the state’s most critical dams, at least $2 billion to improve the states levees, $17.5 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade and expand drinking water systems, and $14.4 billion for wastewater systems.
California desperately needs large-scale infrastructure investment to cope with current and projected population growth. Without a significant departure from business-as-usual marginal investments in infrastructure, Los Angeles will be the first place in the country where we will be able to observe first-hand the catastrophic consequences of an overburdened transportation and water system on the economy.
Public-private partnership enabling legislation should be a top priority in improving California’s transportation infrastructure. It provides the opportunity for the public to allow the private sector to carry the risk of investment decisions. Over twenty states have some form of public-private partnership enabling legislation.
Under any funding mechanism, there are limited resources for infrastructure investments. User-pay systems are the most reliable way to direct investment to its highest valued use. As with most other goods in the market, the user’s willingness to pay can lead us to invest in the most essential improvements.
By removing the requirement for state-level funding, public-private partnerships also make it possible to devolve decision-making about new projects to a local level. State funds cannot meet all the needs and local governments have to take more responsibility for local needs, with the state role focused on regional or statewide projects. This ensures that Californian’s most affected by the new projects have the greatest say in their approval.