Projects in Golden State Making Significant Progress

Tue November 17, 2020 - West Edition #24
Caltrans

A progress report noted that Caltrans was on track, at current and projected rates of repair and rehabilitation, to meet SB 1 performance standards for pavement overall, bridges and culverts by the end of the 10-year reporting period.
A progress report noted that Caltrans was on track, at current and projected rates of repair and rehabilitation, to meet SB 1 performance standards for pavement overall, bridges and culverts by the end of the 10-year reporting period.



The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1) has passed a major timeline milestone, one-fifth of the way through a promised 10-year transformation of California's transportation network.

A recent progress report presented to the California Transportation Commission shows that Caltrans, to this point, is meeting or making significant strides on key SB 1 performance targets set for pavement, bridges, drainages, its signals, signs and sensors system.

But challenges remain in the pace of improvements to the bridges that Caltrans maintains, although solid progress has been made to that critical part of the State Highway System (SHS).

Caltrans analyzed the condition of its major highway components as part of an annual progress report required by the CTC. In addition to the SB 1 targets, the report measured Caltrans' performance in the same categories established in its 2018 Transportation Asset Management Plan (TAMP) that counted and assessed the condition of the highway system's many physical components, and set objectives to preserve and improve those assets.

The progress report noted that Caltrans was on track, at current and projected rates of repair and rehabilitation, to meet SB 1 performance standards for pavement overall, bridges, and culverts by the end of the 10-year reporting period. The interconnected grid of electrical devices and hardware known as TMS (transportation management system) was placed on monitor status, meaning it's still uncertain whether the pace of improvements will be enough to achieve 2027 goals. That same rating was accorded for a separate SB 1 category, pavement maintenance based on the number of potholes, cracks and concrete corrosion found on state routes.

SB 1, which became law in 2017, requires that Caltrans upgrade 98 percent of all three classes of state highway pavement to good or fair condition by 2027. The Department also must achieve a 90 percent rating based on Level of Service (LOS) standard for pavement deficiencies.

Caltrans now uses a laser-scanning system to evaluate pavement conditions as part of SB 1 and TAMP performance standards, replacing a previous method that relied on limited visual inspections. The new automated survey has already produced greater accuracy in grading road conditions than the old method of dispatching field crews for inspections.

SB 1 also requires that Caltrans fix 500 bridges over and above a previous annual average number of repair projects, bring its culvert system to a 90 percent or better good or fair rating, and ensure that at least 90 percent of the TMS network is in good condition.

Caltrans' TAMP rates the same highway categories, but uses more precise performance metrics for pavement and bridges.

Based on the TAMP scale, all three classifications of highway pavement are on track to reach or exceed 2027 "good" condition goals. Caltrans' culvert system was likewise improving at projected rates. The TMS system, as it was under the SB 1 reporting, was placed under a monitor status because of the possibility of falling short of long-term goals.

Under TAMP assessment standards, however, the overall condition of Caltrans bridges and tunnels lagged behind other parts of the SHS showing improvement. The early bridge and tunnel showing earned an "action required" warning, and Caltrans has intervened by taking corrective steps to quicken the pace of planned improvements.

Bridges, Tunnels

High marks: Caltrans is on pace to exceed the 2027 bridge-fix goal mandated by SB 1. The department projects that of the almost 13,200 bridges it maintains in the state, least 1,900 will undergo fixes as defined by the CTC in the 10-year reporting period. SB 1 targets commit Caltrans to repairing or rehabilitating at least additional 500 bridges through 2027, an extra 50 a year, on top of the average of 114 that were being fixed annually prior to SB 1. Under the SB 1 formula, Caltrans is required to complete a total of 1,140 bridge fixes through 2027 —but will likely reach that goal by the 2024-25 fiscal year, two years earlier than required.

To earn credit as a "fix," a bridge project must either improve the condition of the span, either from fair to good, or poor to fair/good; perform a seismic restoration that meets federal guidelines; eliminate the vulnerability to scour conditions caused by water; or address vertical clearance or load capacity issues.

Challenges

As measured by federal standards, the percentage of bridges rated in good condition dropped more than five points from 2017 to 2018, from 65.9 percent to 60.3 percent. Bridges that earned a fair rating from inspectors showed an almost five-point rise, from 30.8 percent in 2017 to 35.7 percent in 2018. The percentage of bridges rated in poor condition went from 3.3 percent to 4 percent in the same reporting period.

Caltrans estimates that percentage of bridges rated in good condition would steadily improve through the 10-year reporting period with the help of SB 1 funding. But even at the current rate of progress, that projected improvement would still fall short of the 2027 good condition target of 83.5 percent for Caltrans-maintained bridges and tunnels.