Road work ahead
From Jan. 1 to March 1, city crews have patched 10,256 potholes. Throughout 2009, crews patched 12,898 potholes.
As part of a special $850,000 emergency patching and paving program, city contractors either have paved or will pave the following stretches of road this spring:
• Iowa Street, from Yale Road to Irving Hill overpass.
• West 31st Street from Ousdahl Road to eastern city limits.
• Louisiana Street from 19th to 23rd streets.
• West Sixth Street from Monterey Way to Folks Road.
• Kasold Drive from West Fifth Terrace to Peterson Road.
In addition, city engineers have recommended the following streets be rebuilt between 2010 and 2019 with money generated by the city’s infrastructure sales tax:
• Kasold Drive from 23rd to 31st streets.
• Wakarusa Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to 18th Street.
• 19th Street from Iowa to Naismith Drive.
• Kasold Drive from Harvard Road to Bob Billings Parkway.
• Wakarusa Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to Legends Drive.
• Bob Billings Parkway from Crestline to Kasold.
• Bob Billings Parkway from Iowa to Crestline.
Commissioners now are considering rebuilding Iowa Street from Yale Road to the Irving Hill overpass. City engineers will host a public meeting on the proposed project at 6 p.m. today at Fire Station No. 5, 1911 Stewart Ave.
Chuck Soules takes comfort on the city streets west of Wakarusa Drive.
It is there — on the relatively smooth roads that crisscross northwest Lawrence — that the city’s public works director believes the tide has begun to turn. That’s the area Soules points to when he tells Lawrence residents that the city’s streets won’t always be in the shape they are today.
“Right now, we’re starting to reach the 10-year mark on a lot of those,” Soules said. “That is when a lot of our previous streets have started to show problems. Those streets generally have not.”
It was about 10 years ago when Soules took over the city’s public works post and almost immediately changed the design standards for city streets.
Soules takes comfort in seeing those newer streets hold up better. But he also knows comfort and city streets — especially major ones like Iowa, 23rd and 31st streets — don’t go hand-in-hand these days.
Jarring is more like it.
“A winter like this, with all the potholes, shakes people’s confidence,” said Soules. “I understand that.”
But it has not shaken the city’s belief in its streets strategy. Commissioners in 2004 — about two years after Soules arrived — began an aggressive crack sealing program. In 2005, the city began giving a condition rating to every street in the city. That rating is relied upon heavily to determine what type of work is done on which streets.
Looked at that way, the city is in its seventh year of a major street maintenance program. To top it off, Lawrence consumers have been paying since April 2009 a new 0.3 percent sales tax to fund additional street work.
Yet, Soules concedes this winter has been the worst he’s seen in Lawrence for potholes.
City leaders, though, insist that is not a sign of a failed strategy. Instead it is just a sign of a late start.
“I hate to say this, but really, we’re just getting started,” said City Commissioner Lance Johnson, a licensed civil engineer. “We really need the public to be patient. That’s hard to say, too, because I know the public has been patient for years.”
Johnson and others say a part of the problem is that Lawrence for years did not do enough street maintenance. Remember that Lawrence started a crack sealing program in 2004. Well, Overland Park started one 10 years earlier. That’s 10 years of water seeping through the city streets and into the bases that support the pavement. A bad base, almost any engineer will tell you, leads to a bad road.
“I’m not surprised by what’s happened to our streets this winter,” Johnson said.
And then there is the money issue. Bolstered by the new sales tax, the city plans to spend $8.7 million on street maintenance and repair. That’s up from $5 million in 2008. But it was not that long ago that city commissioners reduced the amount of money the city spent on street maintenance. In the 2004 budget, the commission reduced street maintenance spending by about $200,000, largely in response to a decrease in state funding that put the city budget under strain.
Johnson thinks those days are done. He said he thinks the city has reached an appropriate level of funding for streets, as long as motorists have a little patience.
“If the community is going to be upset, they have to also be willing to pay more for it,” Johnson said. “Then it becomes a question of does something get sacrificed, do taxes go up? How big of a priority is it?”
But Johnson also knows that saying the city is on the right path doesn’t make motorists any happier about the path they are driving on.
“It is a frustrating deal because we can say all of this, but the people who drive over a pothole and jar their teeth and hit their heads on the roofs of their cars, it doesn’t make them feel any better,” Johnson said.
If the streets west of Wakarusa are where Soules takes his comfort, Iowa Street may be where he grows concerned. Heading into this winter, the stretch of Iowa Street between Yale Road and the Irving Hill overpass was last repaved in 2006.
That major work had city engineers believing the section of street had quite a bit more life left in it. A typical repaving — or a mill and overlay, as it is called — should last at least 10 years. When city engineers put together a list of major streets that they were proposing to rebuild between now and 2019, Iowa Street was not on it.
Then, with just a few rough weeks of winter, plans changed. City commissioners were told that the street’s base was shot. The stretch of Iowa Street — along with portions of 31st, Louisiana, Sixth and Kasold — would need $850,000 worth of emergency paving and patching. On top of that, engineers said they now were recommending a $5 million rebuilding of Iowa Street to begin in 2012.
City leaders believe they’ve figured out a way to rebuild the street without raising property taxes, although their plan relies heavily on the project receiving federal and state funding.
But the fact the project came onto the scene so suddenly is still concerning.
“You do worry about how many more are out there like that,” Johnson said. “It is one of those things that can be a budget-buster.”
Soules certainly isn’t guaranteeing that the city has seen the last of the sudden projects. That’s in part because essentially every city street constructed before he arrived was built without a treated base. A treated base, Soules said, helps a road better withstand water seeping through the pavement.
Like many cities at the time, Lawrence’s design standards did not require treated bases. But that, combined with decades without a true crack sealing program, became a formula for deterioration.
“We’re trying to catch up on maintenance issues that had been neglected for quite a while,” Soules said. “We didn’t have crack sealing for a long, long time. I can tell you that we’ve now crack sealed all the highways in the city. But I can’t promise you that we got to them in time. But we’re doing everything we can.”