Do you ever wonder why San Diego has the seventh-worst street pavement among America’s larger cities? We have almost no rain and certainly no snowplows or street salting. So what is destroying our roads?

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City auditor Eduardo Luna and Voice of San Diego recently blew the whistle on the quiet cartel that is wrecking our neighborhoods: a dozen private trash haulers that roam our streets and alleys collecting from apartments, condos, restaurants, offices and other commercial buildings.

In San Diego’s newer neighborhoods that are exclusively or mostly single-family residences, you’d never notice. The city trash trucks visit weekly and the recycling units on alternate weeks. Just like most American cities. But for those of us who live in more diverse neighborhoods with commercial activities, it’s a very different story.

I live near First Avenue, where Bankers Hill meets Hillcrest. We have a pleasant mélange of single-family homes, apartments, condos, restaurants, lounges, neighborhood stores and hair salons. The only thing that upsets our equilibrium is the roar of warring trash trucks and daily obstruction of traffic on narrow streets by the haulers serving their accounts.

If noise and road congestion were the only issue, it might not burn so much. But the destruction of public property – taxpayer property – to keep the trash cartel quiet is more than I can tolerate.

A partially filled trash truck puts as much strain on city pavement as thousands of passenger vehicles. That is not a typo – the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has studied the topic for years. Even if one uses the more conservative estimate of engineers in Bloomington, Ill., a trash truck impact on pavement is equal to about 1,400 autos. With 12 companies cruising the streets, that approximates 17,000 auto trips per week – 870,000 trips per year.

I am no engineer, but neither am I a fool. It is ridiculous for our city government to perpetuate this stupid system. The city should create several commercial trash collection zones based on the most efficient routing of collection and transfer to disposal sites. It should then create minimum standards for companies that seek to bid on these franchise areas, and fee controls to prohibit gouging. Then let the free market select the winners for one or all of the zones based on an auction among qualified bidders.

Bob Nelson is the founder of BNA Communications and a member of the Unified Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners. Nelson’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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