San Diego Turns to Tech to Assess Damaged Streets

San Diego ranks among the worst in the nation when it comes to road quality, so they're doing something about it.

by / March 23, 2015
A 2013 study ranked San Diego’s streets as fourth worst in the nation, but city officials are looking to turn that around. Flickr/K.G.Hawes

San Diego is getting smart about fixing its roads.

In February, city officials announced plans to make a complete inventory of its roads, a task that will be completed over the next year through the use of vehicle-mounted line-scan cameras. The program -- being conducted with vendor Cartegraph Systems -- will cost the city $566,000, but will allow officials to allocate its resources wisely while meeting Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s goal of fixing 1,000 miles of roads over the next five years.

The city first contracted Cartegraph in 2011 for the same purpose. But back then, they did things piecemeal, said Bill Harris, spokesperson for the city’s Transportation and Storm Water Department. Now, he said, they’re taking a more comprehensive approach.

The city uses an in-house pavement management system, and the cars run by Cartegraph will feed that system with data that the city can use to assess road quality.

“We don’t wait for the report because we already have a lot of anecdotal and historical data, so our paving program is very aggressive right now,” Harris said. “But when we do get the report in a year, we’re going to have a much better sense of where we need to go in the years ahead.”

Harris said he didn’t know exactly how damaged the city’s roads were, but most aren’t good -- “good” being a technical term that means a score of 70 or higher according to an industry standard. A 2013 study ranked San Diego’s streets as fourth worst in the nation, while a 2010 Reader's Digest report ranked California's roadways as third worst in the nation.

The city will pair the data collected with other factors about the roadways, like how busy they are, and whether they provide access to critical facilities like hospitals or schools, and then use that data to plan more effectively.

The city has also adopted a street preservation ordinance that forces agencies to be more systematic about digging up the streets. Agencies are no longer permitted to repair a street one week and then dig it up the next for another purpose.

“That drives residents crazy,” Harris said. “It immediately upsets the nature of the drive across that road and it can degrade the road itself. It was horribly inefficient. It was inefficient from a management standpoint, but it was also inefficient from a cost standpoint, and even more inefficient when it came to community relations. It was a real problem.”

Today, the city is leading the “most aggressive, well managed and efficient paving system” it has ever seen, Harris said. 

“We’ve gotten very smart about how we do this. It’s smart because we see all the different parts, and we’re bringing all the different parts together,” he said. “It’s getting everything in one place at one time, so you can get a good solid look at what your infrastructure’s condition is and then make some real careful decisions about where to apply your resources to get the biggest bang for the buck.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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