OAKLAND -- You don't need to look down at all the cracks, craters and potholes on Jackson Street to know that it's in terrible shape.
If you're a cyclist, you can feel every inch of cracked pavement. And if you're driving, you can hear a sound that's usually audible on unpaved country roads or Third World slums.
"I've always said it's the worst street in all of Oakland," said John-Paul Deveer, who has lived on Jackson for eight years and has several punctured bicycle tires to show for it. "I call these pot trenches," he says pointing to section of missing pavement, "because they ceased being potholes long ago."
That a street connecting Lake Merritt to Interstate 880 could be so bad for so long has confounded residents. But after a recent community lobbying effort, help is finally on the way.
In September, thanks in part to a state grant, Jackson will be completely repaved from Lakeside Drive to 11th Street. Additional repairs will be made between 4th and 7th streets. Overall, that will be one giant step for the quality of life of hundreds of Oakland residents; but it will be only a drop in the bucket when it comes to Oakland's deepening road problems.
The city's roads rank 98th out of 109 Bay Area cities, according to data collected by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Oakland has nearly as many miles of road as San Francisco, yet it's $4.78 million annual budget for road repairs last year was 10 times less than San Francisco's $49 million, said Kristine Shaff, spokeswoman for Oakland's Department of Public Works.
"We can't stand it that our streets are this bad," Shaff said.
As bad as Jackson is, Shaff said it's not fair to call it Oakland's worst. "Everybody has their favorite worst street," she said. "You ask people all over town. Broadway is pretty bad; 35th Avenue is horrendous."
Shaff said that Oakland's ravaged pavement is the result of a funding shortfall. The state's gas tax doesn't provide as much revenue as it once did, she said, and Alameda County voters narrowly rejected a sales tax hike that would have provided a funding source for road improvements.
City officials often don't mention it, but the cost of employee pensions and health care benefits have increased over the past 15 years, leaving the city with less money to spend on services. Under city policy, Jackson Street won't be paved again until 2099.
To fix all the streets that need repairing, Oakland would have to spend about $435 million -- nearly as much as the city's entire general operating budget. The city is counting on voters passing in November a half-cent sales tax hike, which Shaff said would include $1.3 billion over 30 years for street repairs in Oakland.
Living and working on Jackson Street has often resulted in costly repairs for residents. Lisa Robie, a dog walker said she cracked a rim on her Volkswagen driving on the street. "I drive all over Oakland, picking up dogs, and this is the worst I've seen," she said.
The city fixed a section of Jackson from 7th to 11th streets two years ago. Residents credited Councilwomen Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Rebecca Kaplan for helping emphasize the need to finish the job, but much of the lobbying effort was done this spring by locals who posted fliers with cut-off phone numbers of city officials for people to call.
"Everyone took off a phone number," Deveer said. "It was huge."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.