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Storm-lashed California roads, dams could cost $1B to fix

A truck fell from southbound Interstate 15, where part of the freeway collapsed due to heavy rain in the California’s Cajon Pass, on Feb. 18. The estimated cost to fix roadways is $600 million.
A truck fell from southbound Interstate 15, where part of the freeway collapsed due to heavy rain in the California’s Cajon Pass, on Feb. 18. The estimated cost to fix roadways is $600 million.
Published Feb. 25, 2017

FRESNO, Calif. — The bill to repair California's crumbling roads, dams and other critical infrastructure hammered by an onslaught of storms this winter could top $1 billion, including nearly $600 million alone for damaged roadways that more than doubles what the state budgeted for road repair emergencies, officials said Friday.

Adding to the problems, many communities have drained their emergency budgets and are looking to the state and federal government for help. But on top of the latest damage, the nation's most populated state is struggling with a $6 billion annual backlog of repairs for roads, highways and bridges that leaders can't agree on a way to fund.

Winter storms have dumped enough rain and snow on the northern part of the state to end a five-year drought. But with the wet weather comes a host of problems for crumbling infrastructure.

A section of mountain highway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe has buckled, with repairs estimated to cost $6.5 million. In the Yosemite Valley, only one of three main routes into the national park's major attraction is open because of damage or fear the roads could give out from cracks and seeping water, rangers said.

On central California's rain-soaked coast, a bridge in Big Sur has crumbled beyond repair, blocking passage on the north-south Highway 1 through the tourist destination for up to a year. Until it is rebuilt, visitors can drive up to view the rugged coastline, then turn back.

The total cost for responding to flooding, storm damage and repairs statewide in the first two months of 2017 will probably exceed $1 billion, Gov. Jerry Brown's finance director, Michael Cohen, said Friday. Much of it will be covered by the federal government, he said.

The tally includes $595 million to clean up mudslides and repair state highways. Costs for evacuations and non-highway damage, as well as for repairs at Oroville Dam, whose spillways threatened to collapse and flood communities downstream, have not been precisely tallied, he said.

Early estimates put the fixes at the nation's tallest dam as high as $200 million.

Several more weeks remain in California's wet season, which brings the potential for more costly infrastructure damage.

The California Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining highways, roads and overpasses, has a reserve fund of $250 million that's far short of what it would cost to fix recent storm damage.

"This is for 2017," said Caltrans spokeswoman Vanessa Wiseman. "So, essentially we're talking only two months."

Storms across the state have wrecked more than 350 roads, shutting down traffic on at least 35 that await rebuilding or shoring up of stretches that washed out, sunk or got covered in mud and rocks, officials said.

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Aside from emergency road repairs, Gov. Brown said Friday that California has $187 billion in unmet needs for water and transportation infrastructure. He suggested tax increases may be required, but he wasn't prepared to offer "the full answer" to raising enough money to shore up infrastructure.

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