San Jose is scrambling to keep up with a massive backlog of paving roads, maintaining buildings and other capital improvements, but it’s not fast enough to keep rapidly-rising costs at bay nor to keep frustrated residents appeased.
In 2007, the city’s infrastructure and maintenance backlog stood at about $900 million. Since then, the backlog has ballooned to $1.7 billion as of this year, an $800 million increase in 14 years.
The city’s transportation infrastructure, which includes roads, roadway lighting and right-of-way landscaping, has the largest unfunded need in the city, totaling $845 million in deferred work. While the roadway backlog slightly improved over the last year, the city has only made a small dent — bringing the total down from $870 million to $845 million to date.
On top of that, city officials estimated an additional $92.8 million is needed annually to maintain all the city’s infrastructure, with $12 million of that needed for the roadways alone.
Residents are frustrated. James Hamilton, a resident of the Willow Glen neighborhood, said he’s watched local roads near his home, including Mackey Avenue and Cross Way, deteriorate after surface-level repairs.
“(The roads) were repaved in 2015 as part of the sewer replacement,” Hamilton said. “They didn’t address the problems of the roadbed itself and the new surface is already failing in many places.”
According to the city’s website, Hamilton’s problem streets won’t be addressed through at least 2023. City officials expect it will take until 2028 for all of the city’s repaving projects to be completed.
San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan said the top complaints he fielded from residents on the campaign trail last year dealt with public safety and homelessness, followed by the condition of local roads and infrastructure.
“I think people want to take pride in the community in which they live, and the physical environment is a big part of it,” Mahan said. “There’s the aesthetic piece, as well as the efficiency and usability of infrastructure.”
Mahan was a co-chair of the Measure T bond campaign, a disaster-preparedness bond that raises more than $650 million for fixing roads, fire stations, improving flood prevention and building out communication infrastructure, among other projects.
More than $300 million in Measure T funds will be dedicated to road repair alone. Bridge and road repairs funded by Measure T also draw from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s 2016 Measure B, a half-cent countywide sales tax.
The next three years might be the turning point for San Jose, presenting an opportunity to get a jump on paving. The city began a three-year maintenance program this winter, which aims to repave 686 miles of city streets. In 2021 alone, the plan covers 216 miles, according to the city, with major streets making up 80 miles of that total, and local, neighborhood streets accounting for the rest.
“The best thing our Department of Transportation has done is create the three-year paving plan and the GIS (geographic information system) map,” Mahan said. However, he admitted, it’s frustrating thinking about how far behind the city still is.
San Jose resident Christi Kennedy has watched in envy as roads in Willow Glen were updated this past year, but not on her side of the freeway.
“Pretty much the whole area between Highway 87, Alma, Willow and Almaden have horrible streets,” said Kennedy, who lives east of Highway 87 across from Willow Glen. “I drive through this neighborhood on a daily basis. I have only lived here for five years, but have never seen these streets updated.”
Meanwhile, Mahan worries about maintenance costs for the city that are even further down the line.
“I think we have historically underestimated the true cost of maintaining infrastructure,” Mahan said. “I think this is a national issue … Historically, Americans have been excited about building brand new, shiny infrastructure and have not planned ahead for ongoing maintenance, which is actually quite expensive.”