Public works director recommends doubling spending on streets

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Marcia Nelesen
Thursday, October 3, 2013

JANESVILLE--Double the investment and more than double the miles.

That's what Public Works Director Carl Weber suggests the Janesville City Council should do to turn the corner on the city's deteriorating streets.

“We're not keeping up,” Weber said. “You should be trying to resurface your streets before they get poor, before you start seeing damage to the base.”

Spending money now to resurface streets in fair condition before they deteriorate further would delay more costly full reconstruction and save the city money down the road, he said.

Streets have become an issue for several reasons.

A large number of streets were built in the 1990s and are due for their first resurfacing. At the same time, the cost of materials continues to increase while state aid decreases.

The council over the years has reduced street work to save money. Members shifted some street costs to borrowing, but some council members have pointed to the added cost of doing so.

The average life of a street is about 50 years. During that time, a street is resurfaced several times beginning at about age 25.

Resurfacing earlier in a street's life protects the base and halts deterioration, Weber said.

A street rating system shows pavement conditions in the city continue to decline. The average street rating on a 10-point scale has dropped from 6.46 in 2009 to 6.07 in 2011 to 6.01 in 2013.

About six miles of arterial and collector streets and another 22 miles of local streets were rated “poor” in 2013.

Reconstructing a street is a bigger job and more expensive than resurfacing--about $906,000 to reconstruct a mile compared to $279,000 to resurface.

Some council members have asked Weber for a strategy to accelerate resurfacing and concentrate on more heavily traveled streets.

Weber in the past has said the city should fix 15 miles a year to stay ahead. He lowered that to 12.61 with his new strategy.

In a recent memo, Weber suggests:

-- All collector or arterial streets rated 4 or below be scheduled for resurfacing in the next thee years.

-- All local streets rated 3 be resurfaced in the next three years. The city can't ignore the local streets, but this strategy prioritizes busier streets and “squeezes the last life” out of local streets before reconstruction, Weber said.

-- All streets needing reconstruction be deferred until the rating drops to 2, which is considered very poor condition.

Timely resurfacing halts accelerated deterioration, Weber said.

“The investment in street rehabilitation would increase significantly, but the miles of street improved would increase more significantly due to the increase in the proportionate share of less costly street resurfacing,” he said.

“In addition, we would hope to stop the downward trend in average ... ratings.

“It doesn't work unless you invest enough in your program over time,” Weber said.

The 2013 program repaired 5.71 miles of street at a cost of about $1.4 million.

Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz has proposed spending about $72,000 more to fix the same number of miles in 2014.

Winzenz set aside $932,652 in the general fund and another $950,000 in borrowing. That's the cap the council set on borrowing for streets.

Weber proposes almost twice as much. He outlined a three-year plan of 12.61 miles per year for a total of 37.84 miles, costing $2.8 million a year for a total of about $8.5 million.

When the overall condition of streets eventually improves, the city can spend less, Weber said.

“Our streets, we're getting to the point now where the condition is poor enough that we're in a bad spot on that slope,” he said.

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