There is a mix of views on whether the state will finally enact a transportation package which would provide at least some statewide money to local communities like Davis, which are struggling under hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance on roads, bike paths and sidewalks.
The issue of roads first emerged on the Vanguard radar back in 2009, just months after the Great Recession, as Bob Clarke warned the council that the city lacked funding on roads.
The issue of roads was initially seen by the Vanguard as a warning that city compensation levels, combined with the economic downturn, had created an increasingly dire situation, where the city was unable to perform very basic city services such as paving streets.
For years the city had relied exclusively on state and federal transportation money to create “a road maintenance budget that is less approximately 800,000 dollars per year which is about 1.2 million dollars less than what is needed.”
By May 2010, then-Acting Public Works Director Bob Clarke gave a report showing “the city has built up more than a five million dollar backlog of maintenance needs.” That would prove to be a very low number.
“In addition to the staffing cuts,” Mr. Clarke reported at the time, “our approximately $1 million a year road maintenance budget is down to $250,000 next year, which won’t buy us much pavement out in the field next year.
“Some things you’ll see immediately, some things won’t be apparent immediately but there will be impacts. Recovering from some of them will take awhile,” he said. “Much as my analogy would be if we don’t maintain our streets when we can do it cost effectively eventually they will fall apart and the cost to repair them will be much much more significant.”
A few weeks later, candidate Joe Krovoza in an interview with the Vanguard, said, “I think it’s going to be very difficult because a lot of the extra things that we might want to do with road repair are things that need to be funded by the general fund and the general fund is extremely tight. So I do think we are going to be in a situation, if we’re not already, where we’re down to bare bones.
“Long term maintenance of roads is I’m sure less expensive than short term fixes, but I’m sure there’s going to be some tough tradeoffs there. I do think that again, external funding, can’t be the panacea for everything by any means, everybody is in tough straits, but I think we have to look pretty aggressively at, I think there’s going to be re-authorization of the federal transportation legislation. There should be money in there for more creative alternative transportation projects maybe that can help free up some general fund obligations that would help with roads. But that’s going to be one of these very tough choice situations.”
Seven years ago, the future mayor of Davis was talking about the need for transportation funding – that we have yet to see.
In June of 2010, the Vanguard did a street-level of analysis of roads. At that time, the PCI rating was 71 but we warned, “The bad news is that with funding levels as currently projected, our roads will continue to decline.”
The scary thing is this was nearly seven years ago, and most of those roads have not been repaired.
In March of 2011, the Vanguard noted that federal funding from the stimulus package put in place in 2009 had run out.
The concern at that time – the city was facing “a cutback in services to pay for the retirement packages of current city employees.” The Vanguard was particularly critical that the city was balancing its budget at the time through furloughs, attrition, and by assigning infrastructure maintenance to a category of “unmet needs” to place the money off budget.
And yet, the 2011 budget initially contained no money for roads maintenance and it was only after meeting with then-Mayor Joe Krovoza and then-Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson that the two of them, with Dan Wolk as a third vote over the objections of Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza, put a million into the budget.
But even then the money was not actualized.
In December 2012 the Vanguard wrote, “With the decline of state and federal funding, the council has been forced to shift from reliance on grants and outside funding to local resources, which forces road maintenance and infrastructure to compete with employee compensation for scarce resources.
“The council has been very slow to respond to these changes, which have actually been some time in the making. The result is that the city’s pavement index has been slipping and will continue to do so unless there is an influx of local money to compensate for the decline in other sources.
“The council had the choice to pave over the issue, if you will, by lowering the index – i.e. their standards, but instead they chose to have truth in budgeting, and to acknowledge that a city with $15 to $20 million in deferred maintenance does not have a balanced budget. Such a city has simply deferred costs into the future.”
By February 2013, the city had commissioned the Nichols report, which, after a much more intensive analysis, showed 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.”
As the Vanguard wrote in March 2013, “Three years ago, the Vanguard received data that looked at the city on a street-by-street basis.”
In 2010, there were 220 streets in Davis that received failing grades of 59 or below, out of 1021 total streets, with another 150 streets that would likely fall into the failing mark if they were not repaired in the near future.
By fall of 2012, there were 286 receiving grades of 50 or less and 450 that received grades of 59 or less.
We wrote, “Three years ago, the 25 worst streets ranged from 1 to 33. Now there are 67 streets that range from 0 to 33. This shows not just the increased level of scrutiny but the continued decline of the condition of roadways in Davis.”
Nichols wrote in 2013, “’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 of that year laid it out.
They wrote, “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.”
At the current level of funding, the Nichols report warned, “Based on an existing funding level of $20 million over 20 years, with approximately 3% allocated for preventive maintenance, the condition of the network will deteriorate to a PCI of 27 in twenty years and the deferred maintenance or unfunded backlog will dramatically increase more than ten-fold from $21.4 million in 2012 to $439.4 million in 2032.”
The good news is that the city has put aside $4 million a year in general fund money for roads.
People have been asking how many roads are in need of replacement – it is not clear. As Bob Clarke put it seven years ago “Some things you’ll see immediately, some things won’t be apparent immediately but there will be impacts.” That is the challenge that we face – we may not recognize using the eyeball test when a road is about to fail.
Current Mayor Robb Davis in a comment wrote, “This issue has been discussed at City Council meetings and decisions about what street segments are prioritized is based on a variety of factors: length of the segment, resources available, PCI, location, etc. PCI alone does not determine priority and staff uses its discretion to determine which segments rise to the top each year. This is why we employ professionals.”
Unfortunately, the professionals have been warning about this coming problem for years and at first were ignored – and then council took the issue more seriously, but we were already deep in the hole.
—David M. Greenwald reporting