New audit points out cracks in LA plan for street paving and pothole repair

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin speaks outside an asphalt plant as he releases an audit of the city's efforts to fill potholes.
Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin speaks outside an asphalt plant as he releases an audit of the city's efforts to fill potholes.
Shirley Jahad/KPCC

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For Angelenos, roads are a lifeline to work and school, connecting our far-flung communities and resources. A new audit on Los Angeles city streets says the agency charged with maintaining the roads can do better.

L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin stood outside a city-owned asphalt plant on Olympic Boulevard on Thursday to announce the audit dubbed “LA Streets the Road to the Future.”

Galprin says the Bureau of Street Services reported fixing nearly a million potholes in the last three years. But he says the agency often failed to provide documentation to back up that claim. And auditors didn’t find any completion reports or evaluations on 60% of street paving projects.

Potholes can cost you   

Galperin says bad roads cost L.A.-area drivers a lot. “$832 a year in additional expenses are incurred by Angelenos because of the condition of our streets,” he said. “That’s damage to our cars. That is flat tires. I know in a three- month period alone, I got three flat tires. It’s very frustrating. It’s very expensive,” he said.

The bureau doesn’t prioritize work based on criteria like traffic volume and heavy vehicle loads, Galperin said. “What you have is our larger streets often are in some of the worst condition, impeding the flow of traffic and commerce,” he said.

The audit also finds the bureau failed to collect $190 million in fees utilities are supposed to pay for cutting and digging into streets “and we want to make sure going forward, that does not occur,” Galperin said.

The controller didn’t recommend raising taxes to pay for more road repair. “Instead of throwing money at the problem, I believe we have to be creative in terms of our approach to it," he said." How do we find partners, how do we find creative financing?”

Galperin didn’t suggest answers to those questions. He did acknowledge it would cost a lot, citing reports that it would be $4 billion just to fix the worst streets.

LA roads stretch around the globe

In response, the head of the Bureau of Street Services says the agency is doing the best job it can given a series of budget cuts. “Despite a 40 percent staff reduction in the last five years, we are doing more today and we are doing it more efficiently than ever before,” said Nazario Sauceda. “We are going to try and complete 24-hundred lane miles of pave and preservation work this year. I can guarantee you there is no other city in the nation that performs more work than the city of L.A.,” he said.

He also painted a picture of the magnitude of pavement to repair. “The city of L.A. has 28,000 lane miles of streets. That’s equivalent to going 1.12 times around planet Earth. You could build a 10-lane freeway between here and the city of New York,” he said.

ABCs of road repair

Roads in L.A. are given a grade for quality, A, B, C, D or F.  The city has been focusing on upkeep of the A, B, and C grade streets. Sauceda says that is more cost effective than spending a lot to overhaul the worst streets.

“If you put your money on your worst first, you will in the long run will end up seeing the overall deterioration of the network,” he said. “The goal right now, with the funding we have, is to preserve the streets we have in good and fair condition. We can do that for pennies per square foot. If you wait until you need big dollars per square foot its too late,” he said.

Galeprin's audit says 40 percent of L.A. streets now get Ds and Fs.

Sauceda says the problem goes back a long way. “The system we have today is the result of historical underfunding. For years, for decades, we did not fund the maintenance programs accordingly and what we have today is a backlog that we inherited from our grandparents,” he said.

You can check the letter grade of your street or any other road you drive at ControlPanel.LA