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Peg McEntee: Rough roads show we need higher taxes

Published June 13, 2013 6:55 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes you have to spend a little money now to save a lot later.

That's the case with Salt Lake City streets, which, due to deferred maintenance, have pits, potholes, bumps and, in some cases, are beginning to crumble.

On Tuesday night, five of seven City Council members signaled their intent to boost property taxes by $7 million, about $4 million of which would fix parks, city vehicles and roads.

Mayor Ralph Becker hates the idea, not least because he hasn't raised property taxes since he took office in 2008 and, of course, hard times aren't past us quite yet. But the increase on, say, a $250,000 home would be $59.40 — or $4.95 a month. For those who can't afford that, the city has a tax-abatement program.

But think of it this way: Despite TRAX, Salt Lake City is all about cars, trucks, buses and bikes that flood the streets all day. It takes just one jarring jounce to make the most mild-mannered of us spit bad words.

And an incredible number of roads need work.

The city has 1,800 miles of streets, which last about 30 years before they need attention. But, as council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa says, for the past eight years the city has reconstructed, at a high cost, about a mile and a half of lane miles per year. (Each mile of a two-lane road accounts for two lane miles, and so on.)

To forestall rebuilding, roads should be overlaid with asphalt every seven years, LaMalfa says. And, ideally, the city would be upgrading 245 lane miles a year.

"We've been doing five lane miles a year," he says.

LaMalfa showed me a road map of District 7, which is pretty much Sugar House. Red lines show the streets that need to be rebuilt; yellow means overlays; and white means no need for repairs at this time.

There are very few white lines, and all seven council districts look much the same, says LaMalfa, who represents the west side's District 2.

One particularly bad street is 1300 South between 300 East and 300 West, where the road was rebuilt with a bad batch of concrete that, he says, is "microscopically disintegrating."

That short stretch alone will carry a $2 million price tag.

As Becker wrote in an opinion piece in Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune, he would prefer a yearlong conversation with residents to plan a long-term course for the city.

But with 189,000 city residents — part of the 1 million-plus people in Salt Lake County — and the tourists, conventioneers and commuters who flock here, we need decent streets.

Most of us have likely been in cities with broken-down roads that make driving and sightseeing a drag, if not a danger.

Utah's capital deserves better than that.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com,facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @Peg McEntee. —

See maps online

See road maps by council district (with street overlay and reconstruction notes). > bit.ly/slcmaps