The Dilemma of Oakland’s Street Conditions.

Our streets and roadways are the blood vessels of our city. There are over 1,900 lane-miles of city-maintained streets in Oakland, ranging from two-lane roads to six-lane freeways.

Streets 1

Oakland’s Open Street Map, by Alan McConchie.

Based on a 2013 Pavement Condition Index (PCI) used to assess the quality of streets, Oakland ranks toward the bottom of all Bay Area cities. This is despite minor increases in Oakland’s PCI over the last three years. Approximately 60% of Oakland’s streets were rated to be in fair or poor condition.

Interestingly, if Oakland’s streets were maintained more frequently, the cost of street maintenance would actually decrease. Light resurfacing is four times more expensive than preventive maintenance. Heavy resurfacing costs twice as much as light resurfacing and reconstruction is over three times as costly as heavy resurfacing. Therefore, deferring maintenance of our streets ends up costing more money in the long run because the lack of preventive maintenance results in more costly interventions that need to be performed at a later date.

So, why don’t we just solve the problem by fixing all our streets and then properly maintaining them? Unfortunately, it’s a matter of economics. The city’s street maintenance is funded by several sources. One source is the gasoline tax that’s included in the price of every gallon of gas we buy. With the improvement in fuel efficiency of today’s cars, there’s less money accruing from the gasoline tax. This funding shortfall is compounded by lower sales tax and property tax revenues due to the recent economic recession. To make matters worse, asphalt is about four times more expensive than it was a decade ago. So, there’s less money available and it costs more to fix our streets.

Streets 2

The well-traveled I-880.

Until the city’s government can find significant additional funding for street paving, through ballot initiatives such as Measure BB, support from the County, State, and Federal governments, or by making budget trade-offs, our streets will continue to deteriorate because there isn’t even enough money available to maintain the relatively poor conditions we currently have. In the interim, the city uses the limited resources available to address what fair and poorly-rated roads it can. If you’re interested in knowing if and when your street is scheduled for repaving, you can view Oakland’s five-year Pavement Management Program at

So, what can you and I do about this problem in the mean time? The most important thing we can do is to report potholes and other infrastructure issues to the Oakland Public Works Call Center (510-615-5566 or

Potholes occur when rainwater works its way under the road surface. Cracks begin to form and the weight and movement of traffic further weakens the pavement until it begins to separate, creating an uneven surface or ‘pothole’ that, if deep enough, could potentially damage cars that hit it.

Streets 3

Pothole filled with bricks, prior to receiving an asphalt patch.

While fixing a pothole is only a band-aid solution (it doesn’t address the underlying condition of the entire stretch of roadway in question, it just provides a temporary patch to the currently exposed damage), the Oakland Public Works Department needs to know about potholes and other roadway problems, so they can assess the severity of the issue and determine a course of action. Being the City’s eyes and ears and reporting roadway problems can help us get through this current challenge.

Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

We encourage you to share your thoughts in the reply section. We welcome the dialogue and learning of others’ perspectives.

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