Durham News

Council nearing decision time on streets’ funding future

Overall, the city streets are in pretty good shape these days, averaging 76 on a 100-point industry standard “pavement condition index.”

But keeping them even close to that condition is another matter, Public Works Director Marvin Williams says.

So, City Council members have begun mulling how to come up with the money. The answer could be another dedicated addition to the property-tax rate, like the penny added for affordable housing in 2012 and the half-cent for park maintenance added this year.

“We really need to consider doing the same thing,” Mayor Bill Bell said. “If people know on an ongoing basis that their streets are going to be at this level, and this is what the tax is going to pay for, I think that’s something that can be sold.”

Durham’s current street conditions (not including those, such as Duke, Mangum and Main, that are the state Department of Transportation’s responsibility) are the result of $44 million worth of bond issues voters approved in 2005, 2007 and 2010. That money (on which taxpayers are currently paying debt service) went to resurface the worst 235 miles in town – essentially playing catchup for years of neglected maintenance.

But even as the worst streets were being made better, cracks and potholes were appearing elsewhere, and even with regular maintenance pavement only lasts so long. Last spring, Williams told the council that keeping a 76 average for all 700 miles of the city system would cost $10 million to $12 million a year.

When they heard Williams’ cost figures last spring, council members asked him to come back with some other ideas. The current, 2014-15 repaving budget is $1 million, with another $1.19 million for routine maintenance. City Manager Tom Bonfield said next year’s repaving budget could be, “hopefully,” $2 million.

Cheaper alternatives

At last week’s council work session, Williams presented some alternatives. Maintaining the whole system at an index of 70 – the point between “fair” and “satisfactory” – would take $5 million a year, he said.

Another approach would be to give preferential treatment to “arterials” and “collectors” – major, high-volume streets connecting multiple neighborhoods, which account for slightly more than 55 miles.

For $1.2 million to $1.5 million worth of annual repaving, the arterials and collectors could be kept at a satisfactory 75, but the remaining 645 miles of local streets’ condition would decline, by fiscal 2022-23, to an average of 55.

“You see all the effort the city has put in ... it all starts to go away,” Williams said, then showed a photo of 55-quality pavement: chipped, cracked and patched.

“Ugh,” said Councilman Don Moffitt.

To keep arterials at 75 and local streets at 65, Williams projected spending would have to go up to $3.9 million in 2018-19 and average about $4.8 million annually for the following four fiscal years.

“We’re at the point as a department where we’re looking for guidance,” Williams said. “We really do need the council to provide us some direction.”

He got consensus that street conditions are important.

“Our citizens’ expectation is that we are going to maintain the streets that we’ve put the bond money into, so it doesn’t seem like the 55 is adequate for local streets,” said Councilwoman Diane Catotti.

“The number one thing on our resident surveys that people want ... was having a good road to drive on,” Councilman Steve Schewel said. “I think that we’re right to prioritize this. And I agree with the mayor the support is there.”