Those of you who have been long-time readers of the Vanguard know that we have been hammering the city of the issue of the pavement condition since 2009. I can still find articles on the Vanguard from 2009 and 2010 warning of the deferred maintenance crisis coming on roads, which generated zero comments.
In the spring of 2011, then-Mayor Joe Krovoza and Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson and I sat down for lunch, where I briefed them on the roads crisis about to hit Davis. For the first time, in June of 2011, when the mayor and mayor pro tem were joined by Dan Wolk, the city council by a 3-2 vote passed a budget that would include $1 million for road repairs.
That may not sound like a lot, but it was the first time general fund money had been included for road repairs. It wasn’t until February of 2013, nearly two years after our initial meeting and following an extensive study by outside consultants, that the city would learn that the roads crisis was far worse than any believed – the study found that we were well over $100 million in the hole, a number that could easily rise to close to half a billion without immediate action.
And yet, the public was really in the dark to this crisis prior to that release in 2013. I can’t find an article in the Enterprise prior to 2013 either. By 2014, of course, the city was looking at a way to fund road repairs, first looking at a parcel tax. Not surprisingly, given the lack of focus on the issue, the public was not willing to back a parcel tax at two-thirds threshhold.
Now the city is looking at a utility user tax to fund road repairs. In the meantime, to the credit of the current council, they have managed to carve out $4 million in annual recurring general fund money from roads – a huge improvement over the modest victory of 2011.
The city has the public’s attention now. But they have fumbled an opportunity, in the wake of public outcries about the timing and magnitude of the road repair work, to lay a foundation for additional funding.
The October 16 press release that came out a week ago, mentioned “The City is in the midst of two concurrent construction projects which are impacting traffic across Davis. “ It added, “Both projects have been in the planning and design phase for years. Due to funding, bidding and contracting, and construction delays, the projects unfortunately began construction during the same time frame. It is rare for the City to experience this much concurrent construction.”
But despite the opportunity to make the case about the road maintenance shortfall and the need for new money – it didn’t mention the 2013 report, the $100 million hole, the fact that roadway conditions in Davis are the worst in the county and are projected to get worse without a huge influx of money.
Mayor Dan Wolk had a statement in that column, but mainly he was apologizing for inconveniencing people and not explaining why we need all of this roadwork.
He said in the press release, “We have a lot of road work going on and I know its inconveniencing people as they try and make it around the city. Believe me, I’ve heard them loud and clear. And city staff has heard them too. Right now we are focused on getting the word out about where the construction is happening. How long the work will be going on, etc. I am sorry for the hassles this work has caused but ask for your patience and to know that in the very near future you will be driving on wonderful new roadways and drinking from a new, sustainable water supply.”
Instead of laying the groundwork for the needed tax that could come as soon as June, he gave a statement that apologized, but offered little of substance.
The mayor does a little better in his column coming out on Sunday. He writes, “The City Council is serious about reinvesting in our aging infrastructure and has begun to spend $12 million over the next two years repairing and rebuilding roads, bike paths, etc.”
While that is good, why not lay down the foundation for the other $100 million plus the city is going to need to finish the job? The map that the city provided shows just how little of the city is getting road repair this round.
Finally, the Davis Enterprise, late to game on the roads crisis, fails to provide the public with the necessary background on roads.
In their “Cheers and Jeers” weekly column, they write, “JEERS to the bad timing that left multiple traffic arteries snarled around town. L Street, Pole Line Road, Fifth Street, Covell Boulevard, Lillard Drive … Davis drivers saw backups at these spots and more just as classes resumed at UC Davis.”
They add, “The work is particularly obnoxious this time of year as a layer of dirt is producing dust clouds over our neighborhoods. Usually, this would be dampened down with water, but with the drought on, the H2O can’t be spared.”
They add, “The city blames delays in contracting and funding for the pileup of pileups, and urges patience (as if we had a choice …). Infrastructure is one of the municipality’s basic responsibilities, and it reflects poorly on City Hall that the various projects couldn’t be coordinated any better.”
No mention that the council is finally addressing the long unaddressed roads crisis in the city. No mention that we have not had major rounds of road repairs since the great recession. No mention that the city needs to act now or the costs will increase exponentially over the next few years.
On February 5, 2013, the Davis City Council received the Pavement Management Report prepared for the city by Nichols Consulting Engineers. The council needs to bridge “the funding gap between the current baseline budget for pavement maintenance and the budget it would take to halt the steady deterioration of our average pavement conditions and reach a sustainable level acceptable to the community.”
The report found that if the city council did not immediately infuse tens of millions into road maintenance and spend $150 million, they would be facing a $444 million deferred maintenance hole.
Back in May of 2013, the council approved what was already a compromise plan – B-Modified, which still called for the frontloading of payments at $15 million in year 1 and $10 million in year 2. That plan came with a concession that the city would have to reduce its Pavement Condition Index (PCI) goal, normally set at about 70, to 63 on average with higher scores and better pavement on arterials and main thoroughfares, and lower scores on lesser used residential streets.
The B-Modified plan allows the city to set aside the money via a parcel tax needing to generate about $2 million per year in debt services over a 30-year period. However, the plan came at a substantial cost, not just financially but principally, and no longer would the council endeavor to reach a PCI of 70.
The ultimate outcome was to be closer to PCI 63 on average, where key streets of community value are prioritized at a higher level than local streets. We are looking at values of PCI 68 for arterials, 65 for collectors, and the remainder of local streets at 60.
When you put those factors into the context of minor inconvenience or even in some cases lengthier inconvenience, most people have been somewhat understanding.
The city has explained the timing factor – that’s probably a legitimate criticism. But the bigger issue should be the $100 million in deferred maintenance. Sadly, the city had a chance with the entire city frustrated at construction-related roadway delays to get everyone’s attention and no one has bothered to mention it – not the city, not the mayor, and not the local newspaper.
When the tax issue comes up next spring, people are going to be wondering where this came from, having remembered that we just did a lot of roadwork in the fall. And sadly, we’ll have only ourselves to blame for this lost opportunity.
—David M. Greenwald reporting