‘Common Sense” Missing In Street Repairs, Says L.A. Controller

Missed opportunities, old technology and paying too much for materials among deficiencies detailed in audit.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou City News Service

Saying Los Angeles’s street repair program has fallen short of its goals, City Controller Ron Galperin today released a series of recommendations that include buying asphalt at a lower price, re-prioritizing its paving schedule according to a “common sense criteria” and doing a better job of documenting the number of potholes it fills.

The findings and recommendations are the result of a six-month audit the City Controller’s Office conducted of the Bureau of Street Service’s Pavement Preservation Plan, looking at the three years from 2010 to 2013.

The audit found that the city is unable to provide proof for about 60 percent of the 953,339 potholes it claims city crews filled over the past three years.

The city has also “missed opportunities” for obtaining funds to pay for repair projects, under-collecting fees by an estimated $190 million, according to the audit. To remedy this, the controller recommends that the street services bureau’s fees need to be increased.

The audit also found that the bureau has been overpaying for its asphalt material.

Galperin, speaking amid piles of dirt and gravel at one of the city’s two asphalt plants, said the city produces its own asphalt using outdated technology from 1947, when the city’s plants were first built.

The city would need to spend about $17 million to upgrade one of its asphalt plants in order for it to produce asphalt at a lower cost. He recommended that the city purchase asphalt from outside vendors with newer technology, and find other uses for the city’s own plants.

While the city has been able to reach 93 percent of its goal for fixing moderately damaged streets, it has “totally forsaken” it worst streets, which make up about 38 percent of the city’s 6,500 center-lane miles of roads, Galperin said.

With limited funding and staff cuts, the Bureau of Street Services has been asked to focus only on streets with grades B and C, and to defer repairs for D and F streets that are more expensive to fix, according to Galperin.

As a result, Los Angeles streets average a C minus grade, short of the city’s goal of a B grade average, based on the city’s own rating system, Galperin said.

He said city officials will need to change how it prioritizes which streets to fix by implementing a “common sense criteria” that factors in “traffic volume, heavy vehicle loads and mass transit loads.”

Some of Los Angeles’ “larger streets” earn grades of D and F, their deteriorated conditions “impeding the flow of traffic and commerce, and making the bus ride a very bumpy journey,” Galperin said.

The condition of our streets is an “important issue for every single resident in the city of Los Angeles,” he said.

The poor condition of city streets means that Los Angeles drivers yearly pay 71 percent, or $832, more on auto maintenance costs than the “average American,” according to a study by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit TRIP, Galperin said.

“This has been a week where we have been seeing a lot of outdated infrastructure in the city of Los Angeles,” with the water main break in Westwood and additional ruptures in other areas, including one reported in Eagle Rock this morning, he said.

“We have to get our infrastructure fixed and modernized,” he said.

“But instead of throwing money at the problem, I believe we have to be more creative in terms of our approach to it.”

Bureau of Street Services Director Nazario Sauceda, who joined Galperin at the asphalt plant for the release of the audit findings, said he would work closely with city leaders to improve the operation of the pavement preservation plan.

“We take this audit very seriously, hence we will review the findings and recommendations in detail, and we will take the necessary actions working directly with the controller, with the mayor himself,” he said.

Many of the controller’s recommendations would need to be taken up by other city leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, before they can be implemented.

The city budgeted funds this year to pave 2,400 lane miles of streets, 200 more miles than the previous year. Garcetti also launched a “neighborhood blitz” program that rotates repair crews from one neighborhood to another.

The city’s 6,500 center-lane miles of roads is equivalent to a total of 28,000 lane miles.

Garcetti released a statement saying he appreciates the controller’s audit of the Bureau of Street Services’s “past performance.”

He and his staff “will work with his office to review the recommendations,” he said.

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July 31, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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