Salt Lake City to ask residents whether it should spend $87 million on road repairs

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) City officials give a recent tour of streets in Salt Lake City, including an example of a "complete street" along Wilmington Ave. just west of Sugar House Park that addressed bike, pedestrian and transit aspects in the rebuild. After a vote Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Council will seek voter approval for an $87 million bond to fund up to 10 years of catch-up road repairs.

The Salt Lake City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that will leave its plan for an $87 million road reconstruction bond up to voters on November’s ballot.

“This is an opportunity after a ton of work with the administration, with council, staff, council members, to have a conversation with our community about a singular need, which is streets reconstruction,” Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said at a council meeting. “And I’m glad that we get to do this through a vote by the public.”

Y2 Analytics, a Salt Lake City-based market research group, said at the city’s work session that the bond will have “exceptionally high” support in November. The company conducted a survey on behalf of the city and after informing respondents of the rationale for the bond, support reached 79 percent.

Supporters cited a desire to improve road conditions as their No. 1 reason for approving, according to Scott Riding, Y2 managing partner. Opponents expressed concern about debt, recent unrelated tax increases and lack of trust in city finances.

The council’s vote Tuesday comes after four informational sessions about the item at existing community events, nine conversations with council members in each district and two public hearings.

The move also follows a pavement survey the city commissioned last year; it found that two-thirds of Salt Lake City’s roads are in poor or worse condition — a result of aging, lack of prioritization and underfunding in city budgets in recent years. If the bond fails in November, city leaders say, roads will continue to deteriorate.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City Council will seek voter approval for an $87 million bond to fund up to 10 years of catch-up road repairs. One road in need of repair is 1700 East near Emigration Market in Salt Lake City, where clear signs of damage can be seen on Monday, July 2, 2018.

The impact of the road bond on residents would likely be an additional $5 in property taxes per household per year, since the city is paying off existing bonds in 2019 for the Main Library and The Leonardo; residents will no longer see taxes for those. If the 20-year bond doesn’t pass, the city estimates that average property taxes would decrease by $41.35.

“Voters now have the ability to decide whether to pay a little now or pay much more later to improve our deteriorating roads,” Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a written statement. “I urge residents to study the bond, make an informed decision and then vote on the future of Salt Lake City streets.”

City officials plan to reconstruct the worst roads first, using data from the road survey to prioritize. Eighty percent of the bond money would go toward fixing heavily traveled roads, according to Salt Lake City engineer Matt Cassel, and the rest would go toward repairing roads that have less traffic.

Because proper road upkeep can extend the life of a street by 25 to 30 years, the city plans to couple reconstruction efforts with maintenance. Some of those funds will come from a half-percentage-point sales-tax increase the City Council unanimously approved in May.

Separately, Salt Lake County recently endorsed a $58 million sales-tax hike for roads and transit. That means the city’s sales tax will climb from 6.85 percent to 7.6 percent in October with both taxes. That county sales tax will bring more than $5 million a year to the capital, while the city’s own half-percentage-point sales-tax increase will generate about $33 million annually.

The bond is part of this series of funding mechanisms, Mendenhall said at the council meeting. The roads are in such disrepair "that we need multiple streams of money,” she said.

The city recently employed a second maintenance crew, using funds from the sales tax, in an effort to keep the roads from going back to their current state of disrepair. That move is projected to double the number of miles the city can maintain each year, and Cassel said he hopes it will build confidence among residents that the roads won’t again reach the same level of deterioration.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hartford street, south of 2700 S. was recently repaired with chip and seal, which lies in stark contrast to 2700 South near 1600 East and has extensive damage. The Salt Lake City Council voted to put an $87 million road reconstruction bond on November's ballot that would fund up to 10 years of catch-up road repairs.