If improving the condition of the city’s streets is like a journey, this is the point where the restless kids in the back seat ask if we’re almost there yet.
No, not yet. But we’re getting there, city leaders now say.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will review new data that measure the condition of every street in the city.
The result: City streets have improved since the last time a complete survey was done four years ago, but not by leaps and bounds.
“We should be pleased that we’re moving in the right direction, certainly,” City Manager David Corliss said of the results. “But I don’t want to unfurl the ‘mission accomplished’ banner. We’re still not where we need to be.”
The latest report — called a Pavement Condition Index — came up with an overall average condition rating for Lawrence streets of 70.28. That’s on a scale of zero to 100, where 100 is the best. That is up from a score of 69 in 2005.
The other major rating in the report measures the percentage of city streets that fall into the “unacceptable” category. City engineers define that as a street that has deteriorated so much that routine maintenance activities won’t do much to improve it.
In 2005, 31.5 percent of all streets were found to be in the unacceptable category, which sparked a chorus of concern from City Hall leaders. The latest report found 29.8 percent of all streets were in the unacceptable category.
City engineers were viewing the new data as a positive step forward.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” said Mark Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works. “We feel like the numbers tell us that we’re doing the right type of maintenance. It is like anything else; if we had more money, we would make more progress.”
In a sense, the city does have more money than it used to for streets. In 2005, when the first survey was completed, the city did not have a dedicated sales tax for infrastructure. Voters approved that 0.3 percent tax in November 2008, and shoppers began paying the tax in April 2009.
That means much of that spending didn’t show up in either one of the two surveys. But still, city leaders are being careful not to promise big leaps in the scores, which will be gathered again over the next four years.
“We’re not expecting a huge jump after the next four years,” Thiel said. “What we have determined is that we have stopped the deterioration of streets from getting worse, and we are now in a position where we can keep up.”
In other words, this journey the city is on isn’t taking place in a Lamborghini.
“I’m glad there is improvement, but I think we should only expect gradual improvements,” Corliss said.
But the sales tax — which is projected to generate about $4 million a year for a variety of infrastructure needs — will help, leaders said. For example, the first major street project with sales tax funds is expected in 2010 or early 2011 when Kasold Drive south of Clinton Parkway is rebuilt. That project greatly will improve the pavement condition score for Kasold. But even though it is $6 million worth of work, it is still just one mile of road.
The city has 319 center-line miles of street. That means this battle often is fought with lower-profile types of projects that end up touching more miles of streets.
Thiel said the city’s crack sealing program — where crews go out and spray material into cracks that have formed on the street — is one of the more important maintenance activities the city has undertaken.
“It is paying dividends for us,” Thiel said.
He said the city has a goal of crack sealing every street in the community at least once every five to seven years. The sealing prevents water from seeping into the roadbed, which is the No. 1 cause of deterioration for streets. Thiel believes, if done correctly, the crack sealing program could add 10 years to the time the city needs to repave a street.
The new report provides some data that the efforts are working to slow the deterioration of streets. In 11 of 12 categories of streets measured, the rates of deterioration had slowed, engineers found. The one category, however, where the rate of deterioration increased was on arterial streets, which are major streets that carry large volumes of traffic.
Engineers said they will be looking for additional maintenance techniques to slow that rate of deterioration, but said the challenge is greater because of the amount of truck traffic on many of the arterial streets.