July 25, 2006
Auditor to PDOT: Fix Road Fixes
Yesterday's Oregonian reports that the City Auditor has told PDOT it's not spending its road maintence dollars as effectively as possible. It's the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Apparently PDOT is spending so much resource rebuilding the really bad roads that it underspends keeping the new ones from deteriorating.
The economics of this were extensively discussed by the PDOT Budget Advisory Committee. In some ways the challenge is understandable: the public gripes about a failed street. It's visually obvious (more so when you drive over it). On the flip side, the optimal maintenance schedule for a good street calls for resealing it before it has visually degraded - so the public wants to know why you're "wasting" money on perfectly good streets.
On the other hand, I have to wonder a little bit about the culture of the Bureau of Maintenance. These are dig and pave kinds of folks, the same folks whose responses skewed the PDOT stakeholder survey with some very negative numbers for things like bike lanes.
July 25, 2006 7:31 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
" On the flip side, the optimal maintenance schedule for a good street calls for resealing it before it has visually degraded - so the public wants to know why you're "wasting" money on perfectly good streets."
This is what has always perplexed me. Suddenly a major thoroughfare which had seemed to be in quite useable condition is repaved. Other problems (potholes, buckling), which might be severe enough to cause damage to front suspension parts, or at least wear out shock absorbers, are not fixed. Of course a street might last longer if it is continually repaved, but are we getting the maximum time of usage before this is done? I was just on Hwy. 224 (Clackamas County) trying to go only a mile or so, but was channed all the way to Clackamas TC, due to current repaving. I didn't even know there was a problem....it always seemed fine to me.
I might suggest a different system to evaluate when a street should be repaved; Frequency of complaints from motorists, combined with a visual inspection. Take note of which streets and specific locations get the most emailings of deterioration complaints.
"These are dig and pave kinds of folks, the same folks whose responses skewed the PDOT stakeholder survey with some very negative numbers for things like bike lanes." We would like to think better of businesses that contract to public agencies. In my experience I have seen enough opportunism when it comes to shaking down the taxpayers to have long surrendered that ideal. The paving companies aren't going to put up a fight to not engage in needless repaving, are they?
July 25, 2006 10:07 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Ron - a couple of distinctions:
1) Between sealing and repaving. Moisture is the enemy of pavement. By the time you seem them repaving there has been some about of damage already.
2) Between the Bureau of Maintenance and their contractors. I was talking about the permanent employees, not the contractors.
July 25, 2006 10:40 PM
Terry Parker Says:
What I have always found as incomprehensible is that money is almost always found to redesign streets and build curb extensions, for bike lanes and bike infrastructure, to add traffic calming devices, for esplanades, and even to cover over cobble stones and old railroad tracks in the Pearl, but not to keep up with street maintenance and add paving strips to unimproved streets in some residential neighborhoods. It is sort of like buying new furniture and redecorating a house when the money should be going to fix the leaky roof. The real reason this occurs is that it is far more glitzy for those elected and holding the purse strings to flaunt new aesthetics that can be viewed by the public rather than refurbish something that will likely go unnoticed but is still needed.
July 25, 2006 10:53 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Terry, I think you would find that many (although certainly not all) of those projects are paid for from dedicated pots of money that are not legally (or politically, in the case of things like LIDs) available for maintenance.
For example, you would not be likely to be allowed to use Urban Renewal dollars for maintenance.
Meanwhile, the gas tax that funds most maintenance has continued to decline in purchasing power since the early '90s with the legislature and/or voters unwilling to increase it.
July 26, 2006 6:26 AM
Ross Williams Says:
When roads are allowed to deteriorate to the point where there are problems noticeable to users they are at a point where you will spend more to fix them than it would have cost to do the maintenance. ODOT has said that it is past that point with the road system for at least the last five years.
Essentially they are losing ground. They have more roads that need basic maintenance than they can afford to maintain given the legislature's requirement for new highways. They are at a point where thye are spending more money to fix problems on neglected roads than it would have cost to do the initial maintenance. But that pushes costs off into the future.
Put another way, unless there is new revenue, the state highway system is slowly going back to gravel. At some point they will have to abandon roads entirely. Of course that is way off in the future. In the short run, we need a new interchange at Jackson School road.
This is an issue for virtually every transportation agency in the country. The demand for new roads is politically more popular than maintaining existing roads. In the long run its unsustainable.
But the auditor's report asks what should PDOT be doing given that it lacks the resources to adequately maintain and repair roads. Ignoring the roads that are in need of repair and paying for maintenance on a wider range of other streets is going to be more cost effective in the long run. They are right, but that kind of triage means the streets in need of repair will start approaching the gravel stage much sooner.
In the end, the problem is that gas taxes don't produce enough even to sustain the current road network.
The real reason this occurs is that it is far more glitzy for those elected and holding the purse strings to flaunt new aesthetics that can be viewed by the public rather than refurbish something that will likely go unnoticed but is still needed.
I think this raises the question of how important are "aesthetics" compared to facilitating people driving further? Our engineers have designed and built roads the way the Soviet Union built housing. All function, no aesthetics. The fact is we have to live with roads in our communities, not just drive on them. For the handful of subarbanites who drive from their homes to parking lots and home again that might not matter. For those of us who get out of our cars and live in cities it does.
July 26, 2006 10:19 AM
Terry Parker Says:
“Meanwhile, the gas tax that funds most maintenance has continued to decline in purchasing power since the early '90s with the legislature and/or voters unwilling to increase it.”
Nor has the legislature considered taxing the bicycle mode of transport or placed it on the ballot so the voters to have their say on the subject. Not only do bicyclists have a free ride over all the same local streets and roads as motorists, bicyclists are provided exclusive infrastructure paid for with siphoned gas tax dollars. Busses also use local streets and roads, but transit riders only pay 20% of operating costs with little or none of those funds going to streets and roads. To be fair, charges to other user modes for roads should be added before any consideration is given to increasing the gas tax.
Chris, what you stated about dedicated funds and pots of money is very true. However, there is discretion with some local funds. Often times maintenance funds are redirected to match State or Federal funding on controversial projects that do not improve the overall functionality of transport, but look good to designers.
July 26, 2006 2:55 PM
Lenny Anderson Says:
question: does BOM's mileage backlog of unimproved streets include those such as SW Hume between 35th & 37th? Its still wonderfully unpaved, with potholes to keep traffic slow, little runoff, a virtual default multimodal space (and play ground). There are lots of such streets in SW, and many there want to keep them just the way they are. I grew up on SW Hume...the dog would sleep in the potholes waiting for the next car to chase.
July 26, 2006 11:24 PM
Terry Parker Says:
“question: does BOM's mileage backlog of unimproved streets include those such as SW Hume between 35th & 37th?”
Lenny, I am not familiar with any of these specific streets, but probably yes if they are still unimproved.
I do have a couple of questions though. Is there a lot of dust and dirt kicked up into the environment when a taxpaying motorists does drive a car down the street in dry weather, and big puddles that are great for walking and wading through in rainy weather? Can residents keep their windows open and not have to filter the air in their homes in the dry times?
Maybe these streets as is would be good bicycle routes, few cars, no maintenance costs, probably no stop signs to run, and for safety, the speed of bicycles can be kept down to a walking speed of 5 MPH. I think some dogs chase bicycles too!