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Letter of Transmittal

Office of the Chairman
Roads and Highway Committee

To the Directors of the January 10, 1921.

Automobile Club of Southern California,
Los Angeles, California.


It having become manifest to the Directors of the Automobile Club of Southern California that the State Highways constructed under the several bond issues were rapidly deteriorating after a very short life, instructions were issued to your Roads and Highways Committee to employ competent engineers and undertake a study of the entire State system. Simultaneously, the California State Automobile Association, a motoring organization, with headquarters in San Francisco, and upon their own initiative, sent a committee to Los Angeles, to discuss the present condition of the State Highways, and as a result of this joint meeting it was decided by the two motoring organizations to undertake this study jointly. It was also decided that a summary of the forthcoming report should be prepared by the engineers engaged in the work, and after approval by the Directors of the Northern and Southern Clubs it should be published for the information and enlightenment of the people of the State of California.

This report is herewith transmitted for your consideration. In the preparation of the report there has been expended in time more than five months. It can be said of the report that it is the most extensive and comprehensive study that has been made in the United States of this important subject to this date. The data collected is voluminous and technical and is accompanied by photographs, tables, maps, diagrams, etc. This data is so valuable and has been acquired at such great cost that it should be published in book form so as to make it readily available as a reference work for the other states of the Union, the National Government, universities and colleges.

The consulting engineers of the two organizations. Mr. J. B. Lippincott, representing the Southern Club, and Messrs. Howe and Peters of San Francisco, representing the Northern Club, directed the study in their respective territories. Associated with them were Professor C. Dirleth of the Department of Engineering of the University of California, Mr. H. J. Brunnier. Consulting Engineer of San Francisco, and ten other well-known engineers and experts, whose names are mentioned in the joint summary report.

A perusal of the main report and the summary discloses the following salient points and conclusions:

The report emphasizes what was already generally known, that the State highways of four-inch concrete were not only inadequate, but in many localities were badly and inefficiently constructed. That the highways built upon adobe soils began to fail almost as soon as completed. These adverse results did not escape the notice of the Highway Commission for they inaugurated a series of experiments initially on the Calabasas Road, and at other points in the State, which were successful and overcame the defects of roads built upon adobe sub-bases. No advantage was taken by them of the knowledge so obtained, and they continued building the State system of four-inch concrete slab under a blanket specification. They are still building under a blanket specification. Since this investigation started, and not before, their specification has been altered from a four-inch slab to a five-inch slab with metal reinforcement. Whether the road traverses the granite range of the Sierra Nevadas or the marshes of the Pacific littoral, or the adobe plains of our interior valleys, the specification i:, unaltered. We find ourselves, at the end of four short years, with but 50% of our State roads, especially in Southern California, pronounced good, the remainder classified as fair and poor. And it must be taken into consideration that the determinations so arrived at were the result of a definition both liberal and charitable, and acceptable to the Commission's engineers.

The report shows further that the ultimate life of the State highways will not endure beyond eleven years, although the average redemption life of the bonds extends over a period of 25 years.

We have not only a heritage of bad roads, but an upkeep cost which is prohibitive. In one instance at least the upkeep, after four years, has equalled the original cost.

California was among the first of the states of the Union to build cement roads. Since that time about forty states of the Union ha ve followed our example at least in their choice of material. These other states, unlike our conservative Highway Commission, discovered the inadequacy of a four-inch slab and adopted roads of greater width and with a six or eight-inch slab. There are today 35 states in this Union building cement roads whose specifications call for wider, thicker roads, and a richer cement mixture.

The report devotes considerable space to the charge of bad treatment received by the contractors at the hands of the Highway Commission, and this is given as one of the reasons for the excessive costs of much of the highway work. Since our engineers' report was rendered a meeting has occurred between the contractors building our State road work and the Commission and, as a result, nine causes of complaint have been eliminated. It is sincerely hoped that the changes effected will result in a better co-operation than has existed in the past and that it will be now possible for the State of California to build roads at a cost approximating those of other states, taking into consideration the respective specifications under which the roads are built.

The Highway Commission is justly charged with building inadequate roads, and persisting in such construction when it was evident even to the layman that the roads would not serve the increasing traffic and loads to which they were subjected. They failed to observe or profit by the example of other states and there has been an almost total lack of scientific research and experimentation on their part. The most serious accusation against them and no defense is available, lies in their neglect to safeguard the roads they builded. The evidence shows that in the rebuilding of one road they destroyed with their own trucks more miles than they repaired, and the destruction was halted by this organization. Although legislation was initiated and secured by the Commission to control the loads which might legally pass over the highways no steps were taken by the Commission, or any other department of the State Government, to enforce those acts. It can be safely asserted that the greatest factor in the rapid deterioration of our roads has been due to overloading of all kinds that has been indulged in by the public, without let or hindrance, by the State Commission. The roads were inadequate and ultimately would have succumbed to even a regulated traffic and loads, but their destruction was hastened by the failure of the State authorities to enforce existing statutes.

The whole question of road building is an economical one and the test that should be applied in every case is, will a given road or system of roads effect such a saving in haulage cost as to pay the interest on the bonds that built them and refund the cost of construction. The transportation of freight is today undergoing as great a metamorphosis as when we substituted for the stage coach and canal boat the steam locomotive. With the evidence before us we must concede that the motor truck has become a permanent part of our commercial life and national well-being. Road building in the United States received its first great stimulus from the invention of the automobile, and the first improved roads were built and designed largely to accommodate that class of travel. There followed in natural sequence the motor truck, and the roads designed for comparatively light traffic soon demonstrated their inability to carry the heavier loads imposed upon them. Today the transportation of freight by motor truck has assumed first importance, and the light vehicle is in a secondary relationship. Our roads of the future should be primarily designed to withstand the heavy load;; they are and will be subjected to.

In the report rendered, the Highway Commission's past and present are freely criticised for their shortcomings but the criticism is constructive, and the remedies for the errors of the past are pointed out, and if followed will result in better and more durable roads.

Your Committee considers this an opportune time to inform the Board of Directors with reference to the mileage of the uncompleted portions of the contemplated State Highway System and the probable cost of such completion.'

Messrs. Howe and Peters, Consulting Engineers, employed by the California State Automobile Association, and who assisted in the preparation of this report, furnish the following figures and estimates of cost for the completion of the State Highway System. They arbitrarily divide all the roads in the State under three classifications as follows:

1. Primary Roads:

Roads of primary importance are those uncompleted sections of the main trunk highway system connecting large centers of population, important county seats, and furnishing direct connection to the entire State boulevards;

2. Secondary Roads:

Those highways not yet completed which reach out from the main trunk system to connect with the minor centers of population and smaller county seats;

3. Roads Providing Limited Service:

Lines providing limited service are those which are considered unimportant at the present tune, and which do not provide service commensurate with the investment involved.

Under this classification we have 3,978 miles of the State Highway System yet to be built, divided as follows:

Assuming present costs of construction, it will require $143,898,000.00 to grade and pave the 3,978 miles of uncompleted roads. There is available today of State funds $39,000,000.00. Funds required to complete $104,898,000.00. The moneys on hand with actual Federal aid contributions will therefore complete only the primary roads, but will leave no funds to construct any of the remaining 2,437 miles of highway provided for in the Highway Acts of 1915 and 1919.

1. Primary Roads

2. Secondary Roads

3. Roads providing limited service

1,540.4 miles

818.6" 1,619.

3,978. miles

Included in the above tabulation is a road starting at Coachella-Riverside County, and terminating at Yuma. This particular road in its course traverses seven miles of wind-blown sand hills, constantly shifting and changing in form. This section was built by the Highway Commission in 1916 of 4-inch planks and at a cost approximating $100,000.00. The yearly maintenance of this road is $5,000.00—or $20,000.00 for the four-year period. Experience has shown that it is impracticable to keep this road open for travel during the frequent wind storms that prevail in that section. It is a formidable desert and but two wells are found midway between Holtville and Yuma. The Southern Pacific Railroad has twice been forced to move their tracks to the eastward to escape the engulfing sands. It is a perilous road even for the most experienced, but notwithstanding the dangers and adverse physical conditions, the Highway Commission persists in its attempt to maintain a road in its present location, although a feasible route exists between the points named.

Yours respectfully,


HWK/B Chairman.

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