Gary Horton | Improve Road Maintenance, Well-Being

Monday afternoon I was pleased to spend an hour with Stephanie English, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s field deputy. Stephanie agreed to meet me at the Valencia Commerce Center – that gigantic megaplex of newish industrial facilities at the northwest intersection of the Interstate 5 and State Route 126. Commerce Center Drive is the main entry into the business park and is exactly where the new bridge over Commerce Center Drive was completed recently.

Before getting into this too deeply, first a heartfelt “thank you” to Stephanie English. She is accessible, interested in her constituents’ concerns, and willing to interrupt her busy schedule for on-site visits. That’s good government and I appreciate her responsiveness.

Now – to the issue:

Commerce Center Drive is to the Commerce Center as McBean Parkway at the Interstate 5 is to Valencia. It’s the “Gateway.” It’s what should be the “glorious gateway” into our most modern, bustling, dynamic business center – which is also a huge, absolutely huge tax base for the county.

Commerce Center Drive should be the “Yellow Brick Road,” welcoming the thousands of workers, owners, investors and taxpayers who live their working lives in these millions and millions of industrial square feet!

But it is not so – not today.

Instead, turning right from the offramp from the 126 onto Commerce Center Drive, one is greeted with a roadway that is more similar to the bombed-out highway leading to Baghdad after our Iraq War I invasion, than to a modern suburban roadway. First greeting visitors is a shattered roadway made more of 10- and 12-inch broken chunks of once-upon-a-time pavement – a rocky road buffered by dead median landscape – the totality of it all insulting to both vehicle and human well-being.

Our rocky road varies after the first few hundred feet – sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse – with the result that one must keep a cautious eye on the road to avoid the larger depressions, ridges, and sections of chunkiness.

This is Third World stuff welcoming our highest producers to their places of business. I sadly admit, the experience and sight is demoralizing to the soul, and when we consider our taxes paid to the County – well, that our streets are allowed to fully deteriorate is a despicable betrayal of our trust. Where the hell does all the money go? Wasn’t maintenance of these assets built into the budget when the darn things were constructed?

Stephanie informed me she has a standing meeting with the Department of Public Works next week. She sees the problem, understands the problem, and will push the subject forward. But she also acknowledges that the county is behind on street maintenance through many areas – Castaic being a high concern.

It’s almost like us living and working in the unincorporated areas of Northern L.A. County need to rise up and shout, “Look over here! We’re your tax base! We pay the bills! Let’s get some love, OK?”

The real rub is that those in construction know that proper street maintenance easily pays for itself. Timely road emulsion coating, usually every five to seven years, greatly extends the life of public roadways. Instead, we seem to forever forestall maintenance, and then, 15 or 20 years in, we’re staring down a full-on street replacement or deep resurfacing – at four to eight times the cost of maintenance.

We contractors shake our collective heads to see public assets like this deteriorate.

Stephanie and I will work together to move Commerce Center Drive forward. I’m hoping public discourse on this might reallocate our spot on the deferred maintenance list.

Meanwhile, over in the city of Santa Clarita proper, we unfortunately also see some of the same deferred maintenance, often in the most unfortunate places. Get off the freeway at McBean. Ditto Valencia Boulevard. These are our main thoroughfares into our Shining City on a Hill, free from human tears.

Instead, exiting and approaching the freeway, visitors confront cobblestone asphalt, shaking the suspension from arriving residents and visitors, alike.

This isn’t putting our best foot forward. This doesn’t really say, “Welcome to Santa Clarita!”

It kind of says, “We’re turning into the Valley.” And nobody wants that.

Many city residents live on streets where the asphalt is fully shattered, some with grass and weeds growing through the cracks. Various neighborhoods around town suffer terribly ignored road maintenance. And yet, we pay our taxes, pay our bonds, go by the rules – and come home to Third World streets.

This needs to be a hot topic at City Council meetings.

Look, infrastructure matters. Local roads and landscaping impact our quality of life. Providing for roads and landscaping are key responsibilities of city government. We’re behind. We’re decaying. Just look at what’s under your tires on so many of our streets.

Yes, I understand we have budgets that are already committed. But sometimes reassessment is required. Hey, look at our beautiful city buses running nearly empty all day long over our deferred maintenance streets. Maybe less unused busses and more maintained streets, instead?

This commentary is kicking the message of “Maintain our infrastructure” out there. Let’s elevate the awareness and urgency of caring for what we’ve built. Proper maintenance is so very much cheaper than “remove and replace.” Yes, we’ve fixed many things up. But there’s so much more to go – often in the most visible locations, and often and discouragingly, right in front of folks’ houses.

Maintenance, maintenance! Let’s recalibrate our priorities, spend our money effectively, and keep our city in proper order.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared on Wednesdays in The Signal since 2006.

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