For some reason I hearken to the critical scene in the 1987 flick “Die Hard.” Terrorists have taken over the building and the hero, John McClane, has managed to get the police to come out, but the police are not seeing terrorists and hostages, they see peace and quiet. Frustrated, McClane drops an already dead body out of the building from high up and somehow miraculously lands it on the cop car, he then fires an automatic into the air and yells, “Welcome to the party, pal.”
Somehow I can relate to that scene this week. On March 10, the Enterprise did a major story on the condition of Davis’ roads, highlighting the ten worst roads. Today the editors note, “Roads are a standout concern. As detailed in The Enterprise’s March 10 story, the latest road report gave the city an overall PCI rating of 63, placing local streets at risk of degrading into worse condition.”
They write, “And degradation doesn’t only mean worse driving conditions, it means the cost of future repairs snowballs. To fix a 63-PCI road, according to the authors, costs $20 a square yard. Let that slip under 50, and the cost jumps to $27. Under 20? Then it spikes up to $81.”
I wish I had thought to report on this stuff. Oh wait – the Vanguard has been reporting on this stuff for a long time. Too long. So while I jest here and say, what took you so long, the reality is, I say, “Welcome to the party.”
June 11, 2010. Twice I have written about the alarming deterioration of the Davis roads. Twice my articles generate ZERO comments. On June 11, I write: “We have reported for several weeks about Davis’ deteriorating road conditions. The bad news is that the current road condition is only in the Good to Fair range, rating at a 71. The bad news is that with funding levels as currently projected, our roads will continue to decline.”
That article – you guessed it – generated zero comments.
Three years later and four years ago this past week, March 15, 2013, I wrote another article, “Street Level View Shows City Roadways Failing At Alarming Numbers.”
I write: “In early February the Nichols report came out showing the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI) was far lower than previously believed. The average was 62, which puts the network in the fair condition category with a significant portion of the network suffering from ‘load-related distresses.’”
That article, once again, only generated two comments.
Back in 2013, the city commissioned Nichols Consulting to look into the roads.
“’Deferred maintenance’ or ‘Unfunded backlog’ consists of pavement maintenance that is needed, but cannot be performed due to lack of funding. These terms are often used interchangeably.
“Shrinking budgets have forced many cities and counties to defer much-needed road maintenance. By deferring maintenance, not only does the frequency of citizens’ complaints about the condition of the network increase, but the cost to repair these streets rises as well.”
Page 10 of the Nichols report that came out in early February lays it out.
They write, “History has shown that it costs much less to maintain streets in good condition than to repair streets that have failed. By allowing pavements to deteriorate, streets that once cost $4/sy to slurry seal may soon cost $14-$27/sy to overlay and $61-$81/sy to reconstruct.”
This is the critical point: “In other words, delays in repairs can result in costs increasing as much as 20-fold.”
That was four years ago. The good news is that the city has put more funding into the roads. As recently as the 2011-12 budget, the city put no money toward road repairs. That’s right – two years after Bob Clarke’s initial report detailing a $3 million a year need, no money was allocated for roads.
In 2010, the PCI was believed to be 71. By 2013, a more intensive survey found it to be a good deal worse, at 62. Four years later, the number is still only 63, despite the city pumping in $4 million a year.
As you can see, from the increased costs of the road repair as further decay occurs – a drop in PCI by 8 points means millions and probably tens of millions in increased costs.
The Enterprise editorial today notes that roads are “just one parameter.” But they are “emblematic of our long-term infrastructure dilemma. Ask around and you’ll find that everyone wants better streets, but it’s difficult to muster the political will to pay for them, especially in the absence of hard data.”
Hard data? We had a consulting report in 2013. No one disputed it at the time. The council even scrounged up $4 million in annual general fund money within a year to put toward roads.
But the reality of knowing “is only half the battle.”
Writes the Enterprise, “Once we know what our future liabilities are, and what sort of self-taxing we’re going to need to address them, will we the voters, and the leaders we elect, be willing to make the hard decisions to get our finances in order?”
They go further, “In particular, will politicians from a strongly Democratic city in a strongly Democratic state be willing to take on the public-employee unions and rein in our ever-ballooning pension costs?”
They conclude: “Passing a resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline is easy; fixing our infrastructure backlog will be less so. And it will happen only if an informed citizenry demands it.”
We have hope today because, for once, the local newspaper is reporting the reality of our situation.
But this isn’t just about the city council willing to make hard decisions by taking on public-employee unions – that’s just a small amount of our costs.
Since 2014 when the voters passed a half-cent sales tax, council has debated over revenue measures in July 2014 and, again in February 2016, the council deferred putting an infrastructure measure on the ballot over a combination of a lack of agreement on the form and amount and goals and a lack of urgency.
How much money in deferred maintenance have those decisions cost?
And, of course, the city has to find ways to grow the economy. The Enterprise needs to do the full math here, because cutting employee costs isn’t coming close to solving our problems.
But at least this is a start. As I say again, “Welcome to the party.”
—David M. Greenwald