Q: Why doesn't the city replace the curbs when they do major work on a section of road? For example, the curbs along Kasold Drive north of Bob Billings Parkway haven't been replaced, despite that section of road having major work done on it just a few years ago.
A: Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works, said there are usually two reasons that a curb and gutter isn't replaced the same time major work is done on a road - money and timing. In the case of the Kasold project, Soules said it was timing. He said that portion of Kasold Drive will need to be rebuilt in the next three to five years, just like the portion of Kasold Drive to the south that is being replaced now. The recent work that was done on Kasold was just a simple repaving of the street that was designed to be a short-term fix to keep the road fit for driving. When the road is completely rebuilt, the curbs will have to be torn out. But Soules said there are times that the city does road projects where curbs aren't replaced, even though they could stand to be. He said a lack of money is the cause of that. Curb and gutters currently cost about $30 per linear foot to install.
Q: Why does it seem like so many of the curbs deteriorate so quickly?
A: Soules said that has been a problem. He said much of the problem had to do with the quality of concrete the city had in its specifications. The city was allowing contractors to mix concrete using limestone gravel, which is a rather soft rock. Soules, who took over as public works director in 2002, changed the concrete specifications about three years ago. Now, the city requires granite to be used in the concrete mix.
Q: How does the city really know if contractors are doing things to specifications?
A: The city has inspectors on each job site. The city in 2005 added three street and concrete inspectors to the Public Works staff, bringing the total up to five. Now, inspectors are on each job site testing concrete, asphalt or road bases on a regular basis. Before the addition of the new inspectors, some public works employees said inspectors were spread too thin and mainly were just "putting out fires." The city also recently purchased a $15,000 nuclear density meter to measure soil compaction rates.
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Q: What about the fact that the city's engineer, Terese Gorman, is married to the president of one of the larger road building companies in town, Steve Glass of LRM Industries? Isn't that some kind of conflict of interest?
A: Soules said that the situation doesn't cause any problems. Contracts for city projects are awarded by sealed bid, a process overseen by the City Clerk's office, not the Public Works Department. Soules said the department also has a policy that Gorman cannot be involved in approving any expenses for an LRM project. Soules said he was confident LRM was not receiving preferential treatment. He said the Lawrence-based company was a good contractor that deserved the work it received from the city.
Interim City Manager David Corliss also said he had "no reason" to believe that situation created any problems. But he said he has directed the public works department to begin advertising for a new assistant public works director. That new position will be more responsible for overseeing street issues, while the city engineer will be responsible for overseeing more stormwater management projects and other infrastructure projects.
"That should address the perception that I hear, rather infrequently, that there's a conflict of interest," Corliss said. "But the main reason we're doing it is that we want to get more managerial resources on streets."
Q: Does the city always take the lowest bid, or do they ever take into account the quality of a contractor?
A: Soules said the city takes the lowest bid. He said the city requires all contractors to be bonded, which is a type of insurance that allows cities to collect on poorly performed work. Soules said his opinion is that contractors that do consistently poor work would not be able to receive bonding insurance, or at least would not be able to receive it at a rate that would keep their prices competitive. He was complimentary of the work that contractors have done for the city.
Q: Is the city's new street standards - such as adding a treated base and using better concrete - working? What's the state of the streets that have been built since 2002 when most of these new standards were adopted?
A: Soules said the recent pavement management project that scored every section of street in the city found the streets built since 2002 to be among the highest-scoring streets in the city. But engineers will tell you that the true results won't be known for at least a decade. Even a poorly built street won't show much wear during the first four years of its life.
Q: Just how long should a street last these days?
A: Soules said it depends on the type of street and the amount of traffic. But on the section of Kasold Drive that is being rebuilt - from 22nd Street to Bob Billings Parkway - Soules expects it to last 40 years before it needs to be rebuilt. He doesn't believe it will need to be repaved for about 20 years, because it is concrete instead of asphalt.