The striking improvement of El Cerrito's streets in the last few years has been hailed a "pavement success story" by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).
A recent MTC report, titled The Pothole Report: Can the Bay Area Have Better Roads?, highlights the meteoric rise of El Cerrito street quality between 2006 and 2010.
El Cerrito scored 85 out of a possible 100 for its single-year pavement condition index (PCI) in 2010, the report says. That score meant that, among 109 Bay Area cities and counties, El Cerrito was tied for second place with Belvedere, behind first-place Brentwood, which scored 88.
The achievement, brought about in part through the 2008 voter approval of Measure A — a half-cent sales tax dedicated to street repair — marks a striking contrast to the city's "poor" score in 2006 of just 48, which tied for third from the worst that year.
El Cerrito's improvement is so remarkable that it's the only jurisdiction in the 24-page MTC report to earn a special section of its own:
El Cerrito: A Pavement Success Story
In 2006, the city of El Cerrito’s local street network was in poor condition (single-year PCI score of 48) and the city had a backlog of more than $21 million in maintenance work. Four years later, the city had boosted its single-year PCI score to 85 and had trimmed its maintenance backlog to just $500,000. How did El Cerrito improve pavement conditions so much and so quickly?
After launching a public outreach campaign that included citizens, city council members and public works staff, El Cerrito won passage of a half-cent sales tax measure in 2008 for a Street Improvement Program. With $2.1 million in sales tax revenues, augmented by $10.5 million in bond proceeds and $1.8 million in grant funds, the city improved pavement conditions and created a direct, local source of revenue for future maintenance.
The biggest impact of the Street Improvement Program was El Cerrito’s ability to reduce its maintenance backlog. The city also resurfaced 68 percent of its streets, built over 400 new curb ramps and replaced 50 storm drain crossings.
The city, however, scored just 62 for its three-year average PCI score owing to the past poor grades. The three-year averages for each jurisdiction are included in the report. The single-year scores are not, though Patch obtained lists of single-year scores for all jurisdictions for 2010 and 2006, which are attached to this article.
At 80-100 points, the MTC states that roads are in "very good" or "excellent" condition, are newly constructed or resurfaced and have few if any signs of distress.
Region-wide, the Bay Area average was 66 points. The MTC determines that 60 points is the threshold at which deterioration accelerates rapidly and the need for major rehabilitation increases. The report concludes that the condition of the 42,500 lane-miles of local streets in the Bay Area are "only fair at best," with serious wear and impending need for improvement. The results are the same as the 2009 reading, and within two points of readings going back to 2006. This leaves the region "mired in a mediocre-quality range," according to the MTC.
While well-maintained pavements could help the Bay Area meet state environmental targets by increasing fuel economy, the report adds that the task of improving the region's roads "is more daunting — and more expensive — than ever."
Bringing Bay Area roads up to a "good" rating of 75 points or more would require $25 billion through 2035 — a cost that is three times higher than the current $351 million spent annually on road maintenance.
The deterioration of a road begins with the daily impact from vehicles — particularly heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses — which eventually causes surfaces to crack. Water leaks through the cracks and erodes pavement strength, eventually causing interconnected networks of cracks known as "alligator cracking." These deep crevices are the culprits behind potholes.
Some of the best roads in the Bay Area were in Brentwood, Belvedere, Dublin, Los Altos and Foster City — each with a "very good" score above 81 points. The worst areas were in Rio Vista, Larkspur, Sonoma County, St. Helena and Orinda, with "poor" scores in the 40-range.
The Pothole Report also calls for what MTC calls a "Complete Streets" approach to road renovation, which encourages better access and use for pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders as well as drivers.