The era of so-called Burgernomics, in which The Economist’s Big Mac Index tracked purchasing power parity using the cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac as the price benchmark, has been replaced — though unofficially — by “Gasnomics,” which measures the price of a gallon of gasoline. Particularly on the West Coast of the United States, the price peaks can be dramatic. Over the last year, gas stations in California have raised prices by an average of 50% for the cheapest grade, Regular, which hovers around $7 (€7), double what motorists pay in the state of Georgia, for example, where gas prices are the lowest in the country.
Filling up a car in the Los Angeles area takes $100 to $120, (€100-€120) while filling up a truck is over $1,000 (€1,000). The pandemic, disruptions in the supply chain and distance from refineries, the war in Ukraine, oil lobbies, and higher taxes have all contributed to price increases. California has the most cars of any state and some of the longest commute times in the nation, which puts mobility to the test every day.
The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) intends to close the gap certified in 2019 by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which assigned a C- average to its infrastructure, a level indicating immediate attention because there are signs of deterioration and sealing risks. The situation gets worse the more closely you look, because while bridges and public transportation are rated C-, roads are graded D, stormwater treatment a D+, and the energy sector a D-.
New infrastructure to help Los Angeles and San Diego
Prime targets on the state government’s to-do list are the two major mega-cities, Los Angeles and San Diego, both in Southern California, where the country’s highest number of military bases are located and where port and airport activity is top of mind. The need for adequate and efficient infrastructure is a top priority and highly urgent.
Construction sites and water treatment improvements are everywhere, and in the past two years, despite Covid, the Southern California skyline has been enriched with bridges and highways, such as Long Beach’s current icon, the new Gerald Desmond Bridge, built by Lane (part of Webuild Group) in 2020 and renamed the Long Beach International Gateway Bridge in April. With its two 515-foot (157-metre) towers, “it is a bright landmark for our city, welcoming visitors from all over the world,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia at the approval of the new name and the transfer of ownership from the port to CalTrans, since the bridge is an integral part of the Los Angeles-Long Beach-San Diego area freeway system.
The highway system is being expanded in several southern regions, such as in the Inland Empire, where Lane is building two express lanes in each direction of travel on I-10 in the Los Angeles/San Bernardino County corridor, which includes replacing eight bridges and widening eight others.
In addition to Lane, there are other major builders engaged in improving bridges, waterways, and freeway interchanges. Investments in infrastructure are particularly directed at safety, not just traffic. Take for example the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge Suicide Deterrent Project. The bridge, built in 1969, is 2.1 miles (3.4 km) long and 200 feet (60 meters) high at its highest point, has been the site of an estimated 400 suicides since its opening, second in the state only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate. The project, with nets and installations to prevent jumping into the void, aims to make this super-photographed infrastructure safe in San Diego Bay.
Water facilities to protect California from climate change
It’s not just roads and bridges for the city of San Diego. Mayor Todd Gloria signed the first installment of a loan with the Environmental Protection Agency in September to repair the old storm drainage system. The loan will allow up to $733 million (€733 million) to be invested over five years for more than 80 stormwater projects.
“Our storm drain system is largely underground and out of sight, but the implications of this aging infrastructure failing are massive – from serious flooding in our neighborhoods to pollution of our bays and the ocean,” Gloria said in a statement. “While replacing storm drains and upgrading pump stations does not capture the public’s attention like fixing potholes, these major investments in critical infrastructure are incredibly important to our neighborhoods and quality of life.”
Spending to catch up on crucial infrastructure projects is expected to be $4.12 billion (€4.12 billion) over the next five years, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, compared to the city’s spending in 2022 of $542 million (€524 million), up from $363 million (€363 million) in 2012, but still far from the administration’s goals. One of the goals is a plan called Pure Water, launched last year and designed to ensure San Diego’s water supply.
The work includes the construction of a $356 million (€356 million) wastewater treatment plant in west Miramar; the construction of a $123 million (€123 million) pipeline network within which wastewater will be transported from Clairmont to the plant; and a $110 million (€110 million) pumping station on Morena Boulevard. The goal is to enable San Diego to produce its own water, without having to import it as it does today. San Diego currently purchases 85% of its drinking water, which will drop to 50% when the city is equipped with the new treatment plant by the end of the plan in 2035.
The desalination route to supply the state's water
California Governor Gavin Newsom’s most ambitious plan is called “Clean Highways, Clean Water: Clean California,” which includes several desalination plants to address drought and aging water systems. The latest is the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project in Orange County, just south of Long Beach, a $140 million (€140 million) project to convert up to 5 million gallons of seawater each day into drinking water. It could be up and running within the next five years and provide water to 40,000 people in the South Coast Water District.
In August, Newsom unveiled a plan to address the projected loss of 10% of the state’s water supply by 2040 and a possible third consecutive year of drought due to a significant lack of snow in the winter season. Water officials have had to reduce state water project allocations from 15% to 5% for urban water consumers and farmers.
There are 12 desalination plants throughout California, including the Carlsbad project in San Diego County, which is the largest plant in the entire Western Hemisphere and produces three million gallons of drinking water each day. The plant would have been surpassed by the $1.4 billion (€1.4 billion) plant planned 30 miles (48 kms) from Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles and Long Beach. However, a state agency rejected it, in part after protests from environmentalists and residents. The plant would have sucked huge amounts of water from the bottom, killing marine life and causing dangerous sea level rise.