Vancouver pavement on road to ruin

Engineer warns that years of neglect make repairs more costly

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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In a decade, half of Vancouver’s roads have deteriorated to a point they need rehabilitation work or complete replacement, engineers told the city council Monday.

It’s a problem that can’t be solved with the current amount of money the city puts toward its pavement management program, either. Projections show that at the current level of funding, even more roads will crumble and fail.

Exact figures aren’t available yet, but it’s likely that upwards of $10 million a year is needed to bring roads back to the level they were at in 2000, when two-thirds of Vancouver’s arterial streets were rated “excellent.”

This year, pavement management has a budget of $5,750,000; it will receive $5,000,000 in 2012. Now, the average rating for the city’s 508 miles of roads is “fair.”

It’s a problem that the city council will discuss next month during a budget retreat: Where does paying for infrastructure rank in a city where public safety and parks are also hurting for money?

Among the options will be forming a transportation benefit district, which allows the council to enact a vehicle license fee of up to $20, raising about $2.8 million a year. Voters would have to approve any license fees higher than $20.

More capital or general fund money could also go toward the road system; however, that would mean other areas would have to surrender a portion of the pie.

Vancouver senior civil engineer Ryan Miles likened it to a “pay me now or pay me later” situation. With road repairs, the better condition a road is in, the cheaper it is to keep it in good shape — preventive maintenance runs about $1 to $4 per square yard. As a road reaches a “fair” rating, it drastically drops in quality, and costs $5 to $25 per square yard for rehabilitation or up to $60 per square yard for reconstruction.

So as Vancouver struggles to keep up with maintenance, the more expensive it gets to fix it all, he said.

“Right now we’re not addressing (failing roads), so we’re on the ‘pay me later’ mode,” Miles said.

The city is planning an analysis of its roads and what it would cost to fix them. The last time Vancouver did such a study, in 2004, it would have cost $3.5 million a year in maintenance and $3.5 million a year in reconstruction to improve road conditions, said Bill Whitcomb, manager of public works capital, planning, finance and asset management. Today, that figure will be higher, he said.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said Monday that poorly maintained streets reflect on an entire city.

“There are few things that keep me awake at night … and one of those things is the condition of the infrastructure of our community,” Leavitt said. “What keeps me awake at night is, how are we going to keep from going down the road — pun intended — of those bigger cities?”

Councilor Jeanne Stewart said it’s getting to the point that people are starting to notice how bad things are getting.

“The comments I hear routinely from citizens is that they appreciate that we’re going out and taking care of (smaller) problems, but they’re recognizing we need a bigger fix,” she said.

There will be numerous maintenance and repair projects this summer, including slurry seal and micro-surfacing on roads west of Interstate 205 (next year, roads east of I-205 will get the fixes) and overlay on roads throughout Vancouver. Roads that are dug up as part of the sewer connection incentive program will also be resurfaced, and Vancouver will also begin a small trial program of using chip seal on some roads. The locations will be posted soon at http://cityofvancouver.us/pavement.

Andrea Damewood: andrea.damewood@columbian.com, 360-735-4542, http://twitter.com/col_cityhall.