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The Condition Of L.A.'s Worst Streets Won't Be Improving Soon

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Asphalt tractor in Canoga Park (Photo by Tony via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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As we'd reported back in July of 2015, L.A. is secondly only to San Francisco when it comes to having the most roughed-up streets. A study by TRIP, a D.C. think tank, said that 73 percent (!) of our roads are in "poor" condition, and that they can cost drivers up to $1,031 each year in car repairs.

So, it would only be logical for L.A. to fix its most beleaguered streets, right? It turns out that answer is not so simple. According to KPCC the city adheres to a "80/20" guideline. Of the $150 million that the Department of Public Works receives each year for road improvement, 80 percent of it goes to roads that have A, B, and C grades, while 20 percent is allotted for the worst streets—the ones with D and F grades. The aim is to prevent the good streets (or, "good" streets) from dipping in quality, rather than to rehabilitate the flunkies.

Why direct money to the better streets? In a bit of a paradox, it's because D and F streets are much more expensive to patch up.

A bit of context first: the Department of Public Works uses "lane miles" to measure street distances (a mile of a two-line street, for example, would be described as a "two-lane mile"). According to KPCC it would take $500,000 to resurface one lane mile for a D-grade road, and $1 million or more to rehab one lane mile on a F-grade road.

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The cost is much more forgiving for streets with higher grades. To repair an A or B street, an inexpensive "slurry" is applied over minor cracks. C streets would require the addition of up to two inches of new asphalt. D and F streets, however, need more than two inches of new asphalt concrete. In fact a F street would require an entire facelift with up to 12 inches of asphalt.

But the 80/20 mindset might not be the only thing that's preventing potholes from being filled. As the L.A. Times reported in 2014, a state audit revealed that the Bureau of Street Services had committed a number of improprieties. These included keeping "shoddy records" and, yes, failing to direct money to the proper channels in order to fix roads. Auditors also discovered that the bureau had been paying $66-per-ton to produce its own asphalt, while it could have purchased the asphalt at a $40-per-ton rate from an outside source, the Times reported. Also, as we'd noted in 2014, CBS 2 reported that the city had inflated figures for the number of potholes it'd claimed to have fixed.

There is some reason for optimism, however. As noted by KPCC, L.A. will completely overhaul the city's asphalt plant on Olympic Boulevard. The renovated plant is expected to produce more-durable asphalt that uses up to 50 percet recycled asphalt. The current plant, by comparison, uses 15 to 20 percent recycled asphalt. The sturdier asphalt is projected by city officials to save L.A. $8 million a year. The bad news? Altogether the new plant is slated to cost $60.2 million to build.