Name the worst stretch of road in Salt Lake City:
A. 100 South between 1300 East and University Street.
B. 700 West between 1700 South and Layton Avenue.
C. 1100 East between Ramona Avenue and 2100 South.
D. The street where you live.
The answer is (D) – that is, if you happen to live on (A). That one-block stretch of 100 South is in the worst condition of 4,100 road segments analyzed in a new citywide survey of pavement conditions, but the other two are also in the Top (or Bottom) 5.
And that’s just the lip of the pothole.
The study found two-thirds of the city’s 600 miles of roads in poor condition or worse. The price tag for fixing them and reversing their decline: $20 million a year, almost seven times what the city now spends.
With both the mayor and City Council committed to taking steps to repair city roads in 2018, identifying funds to start the work is getting immediate attention. Mayor Jackie Biskupski is expected to cover the topic in her State of the City address on Wednesday, and the council will be hearing from its analysts about possible funding sources at its Feb. 6 meeting.
“What the policymakers have to decide is what kind of investment and what kind of commitment they can and will make to this,” said Mike Reberg, director of the city’s Department of Community and Neighborhoods. “We’ll take any new additional dollars available. Right now there’s not enough and we need more to really start having an impact on the quality of the roads in the city.”
The $158,000 road study was done for the city last June and July by an outside firm, Data Transfer Solutions. A van equipped with cameras and lasers drove and photographed nearly 1,200 miles of roadway to make the assessment.
City roads were rated in seven categories ranging from good (best) to failed (worst). Just 1.6 percent came back as good; 0.3 percent got a failing grade. In between came satisfactory (8.9 percent), fair (25.8 percent), poor (36.6 percent), very poor (21.3 percent) and serious (5.4 percent).
A color-coded overhead view of the city’s street grid shows the worst road conditions on the east side of the city, with its denser network of smaller, older residential streets that get less use but also less-frequent maintenance. Generally speaking, larger arterial roads and so-called connector streets, which funnel traffic from residential streets to the arterials, are in better shape, as are newer roads on the west side.
Salt Lake City currently spends $3 million-$3.5 million a year on street repair and maintenance. The summer study projected what would happen to the roads if the city spent $5 million, $12.5 million and $20 million more a year on fixing them.
At the two lower levels, they get worse over the next 10 years. At the highest funding level, they improve, by a citywide average of 13.5 percent over the decade. Just breaking even could cost $15 million or $16 million a year, Reberg said.
Fixing roads gets substantially more expensive the worse they get. Every dollar of repair work for a road that is still at or above 70 percent of its initial quality becomes $8-$10 if the road deteriorates to the point where it must be completely rebuilt.
With new dollars, city roads would get attention on a worst-first basis that also takes into account any other scheduled or proposed reconstruction work, such as public utility improvements. For example, the city would delay repaving work on a street that is due to be dug up imminently for a new water or sewer line.
Finding $20 million a year for road repair means looking outside the city’s operating budget.
“The reality is if you want to add significant dollars to address this problem, you’re going to have to find new dollars in some fashion,” Reberg said.
That likely means issuing bonds. The city’s ability to borrow for capital construction will expand this year by $87 million as it retires older debt. That is less than half the $200 million that a 10-year road improvement project might cost.
That outlay isn’t indexed for inflation. Nor does it include potential higher costs for additional maintenance, equipment and personnel.
“The question is what kind of tolerance does the city have for the cost and how much can you do to deal with the situation on top of the other challenges facing the city,” Reberg said.
Early signs say the political will is there. The City Council received copies of the survey last week. Council chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said the city lawmakers “are ready to look at the real funding needs” for fixing the city’s streets.
“We’ve had streets as a council priority for the past two years and it’s time that we address it with funding,” she said. “I don’t doubt that this is going to be a major priority and funding initiative this year.”