City Controller Says Litter Plagues L.A. Freeways Under Outdated State Formula

Posted on February 13, 2017

Galperin Calls on Caltrans to Heed 2016 Audit Recommending a Better Way to Distribute Highway Maintenance Funds

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles drivers endure more litter on and near state-maintained roads than motorists elsewhere in California because the state shortchanges the region on trash removal and roadway upkeep, City Controller Ron Galperin said. He pressed the state to take action on a nearly year-old audit that urged reforms.

In a letter to Malcolm Dougherty, the director of the California Department of Transportation, Galperin called on Caltrans to follow the recommendations of a March 2016 state audit that advocated a more rational system for distributing funds for litter removal and other road maintenance.

The audit revealed widespread inequities in how Caltrans allocates $1.5 billion for annual roadway maintenance. Drivers in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties account for 24 percent of all miles driven on California state highways; yet Caltrans spends just 14 percent of its roadway maintenance budget in the two counties, according to the audit.

Galperin noted that the result of the disparity is that L.A.-area freeways are lined with trash even though drivers here pay the same fuel tax as other Californians to build and maintain highways.

"As someone who travels Los Angeles freeways frequently, I am appalled at trash-strewn conditions I observe alongside many of the roadways and ramps that Caltrans is responsible for maintaining," Galperin said. "I am even more dismayed that we Los Angeles drivers pay our fair share in fuel taxes to clean and maintain state roadways, but are not getting our fair share of services in return."

Roadway litter is more than an unsightly nuisance. Discarded cigarette butts pollute waterways and poison the food chain, while objects in roadways can damage vehicles and cause traffic hazards.

State Auditor Elaine Howle last year called on Caltrans to revise the road maintenance funding model to better account for traffic volume and other real-world factors. However, according to Caltrans officials, this has not yet happened. Last month, Howle followed up by asking the Legislature to act.

Galperin, who wrote letters to both Caltrans and state legislative leaders, said there’s no justification for delays. He noted that Bakersfield has a program to pay homeless people minimum wage to pick up highway litter -- a concept that could be adopted in other cities.

“My request of you is straightforward,” Galperin wrote to Dougherty.

Since he took office in 2013, Galperin has made improving the condition of Los Angeles streets a priority. An audit by his office in 2014 found that the Bureau of Street Services was overpaying for asphalt and forfeiting some fee revenue from utilities. Galperin partnered with the Bureau to find efficiencies and improve management practices, such as using software to map street conditions and monitor the progress of city work crews. This year, Galperin asked city leaders to consider raising the fee on utility companies for cutting and digging into city streets, saying a higher fee would raise millions of dollars to restore roads.

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