City Council discusses street and sidewalk conditions

Friday, June 10, 2011 | 10:15 p.m. CDT; updated 12:04 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

COLUMBIA — The condition of Columbia's streets dominated the discussion at the Columbia City Council retreat Friday.

A citizen survey conducted this spring and presented at the retreat showed 57 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the condition of city streets.

Other topics discussed at the retreat

A city employee survey: The survey measured engagement of city employees. Employees who are new or had spent many years in their employment were found to be most engaged with work. Results also suggested good public service motivation among city employees.

A Columbia Vision Commission update: Draft recommendations for progress on Imagine Columbia’s Future are online for a 30-day public comment period.

Health care reform: City employee coverage may undergo significant changes in 2014 because of federal health care reform legislation.

Storm water: The Storm Water Task Force and city staff are still working on solutions to storm water problems.

Tourism: The city manager and City Council members discussed concerns about the possible merging of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Office of Cultural Affairs.

Columbia Regional Airport: City Manager Mike Matthes wants to get a new international hub nailed down before expanding the terminal.

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City Manager Mike Matthes pointed out that some problematic roads such as Providence Road, which is a state road, are not maintained by the city. He said many people probably wouldn’t know these roads are not city roads.

The use of salt to combat winter precipitation was discussed as a possible reason for road deterioration.

Public Works Director John Glascock said salt is corrosive to roads but could not be blamed for the conditions because the city just switched to salt-only road treatments in the last year.

Glascock said road maintenance is the root of the issue.

“The salt itself laying on top of the streets is not a problem,” Glascock said. “It’s when it gets in the cracks of the streets and those kind of things. … The problem is we don’t maintain the streets to keep the water out. The water gets underneath, and freeze-thaw makes the potholes. The salt just exacerbates that.”

Matthes emphasized that winter freezing and thawing cause more damage to the streets than salt.

“So the real impact this year, I would guess 80 percent of the damage you see is from winter," Matthes said

But Matthes reined in hopes for solving the street and sidewalk problems.

“If we’re wildly successful (in increasing investment in streets), it will not be very much," Matthes said. "To live within our means and meet all of the demands we have, as well as … move to a budget where we aren’t using fund balance to balance it. It won’t be huge. We won’t be doubling this. Far less than that.”

Finance Director John Blattel said that, in fiscal year 2012, it is projected that of the $9.6 million half-cent transportation sales tax funds, about $5 million, would have uses related to streets and sidewalks.

During fiscal year 2010, according to the city’s Infrastructure Task Force, about $6.3 million of the $9.4 million transportation sales tax funds went to uses related to streets and sidewalks. During fiscal year 2011, the amount was about $5 million out of $9.6 million.

Blattel said funding for streets and sidewalks also comes from a gasoline tax and from the Special Road District Tax. However, Blattel said the bulk of the street repair fund comes from the transportation sales tax.

Phebe LaMar, chairwoman of the Infrastructure Task Force, said transportation sales taxes have increased in the last few decades and capital improvements taxes have continued, and the city has found other ways to fund street creation and maintenance.

Despite this, she said the amount of general revenue directed toward streets and sidewalks has “decreased pretty substantially in the last 10 to 15 years.”

“Which means that the amount of dollars that’s being spent on it has also, at least during some years, decreased substantially," LaMar said.

LaMar said streets and sidewalks are getting a big chunk of the transportation sales tax funds but it’s not enough to solve a nearly $14 million capital improvement deficit.

“We believe there is an overwhelming need in the area of streets and sidewalks in the city of Columbia, particularly with regard to streets,” LaMar said. “We are underfunding the (capital improvement) projects for streets, which includes, from what we could tell, major maintenance to streets, as well as expansion, addition of streets, that sort of thing, by almost $14 million.”

LaMar said the city might not be able to raise any amount near $14 million, but solutions for increased funding are needed.

“The fact is we’ve been racking our brains trying to figure out ideas for where we can get some additional funding and how we can structure it so there will be additional funding to address what appears to be a very substantial need,” LaMar said.

When Mayor Bob McDavid questioned whether the city could afford to address storm water problems without also approaching street problems, Matthes suggested addressing both at the same time.

“It’s all infrastructure,” Matthes said. “It all needs to be repaired, rebuilt. There might be some value in just treating them all at the same time, with some kind of capital investment.”

McDavid called for a comparison with other cities with similar climates to determine relatively how much money Columbia is putting into the streets and sidewalks.

“I think the conventional wisdom is that we’re not funding this infrastructure very well,” McDavid said, “but it’d be nice to validate that.”

However, McDavid acknowledged a decline in streets and sidewalks funding.

“Not to be overly pessimistic,” he said, “but some of the major sources of funding for capital improvements in streets and sidewalks are going south on us.”

The retreat will resume at 7:55 a.m. Saturday in the City Council chamber.

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Mike Martin June 11, 2011 | 1:18 p.m.

Decaying physical infrastructure -- from sewers and storm drains to streets and sidewalks -- has been a problem here for decades and for a simple reason -- it is not a priority at City Hall.

In order to "invest," as the Mayor and city manager repeatedly call it, you have to have investment managers -- in this case, city leaders -- with the right priorities.

The problem isn't lack of funds -- City Hall has plenty of money, with everything from monopolies on several key utilities to high taxes and fees and bulging reserve coffers.

The problem is lack of the basic priorities that will put the money we have to work where we need it. One look at the ongoing fiasco over city sewers is a perfect indication of these skewed priorities.

Instead, our money goes to work on low priority areas, and in counterproductive ways to boot.

Why, for instance, build giant new parking garages for millions and millions of dollars when you don't have adequate streets? That seems counter-intuitive, if not just downright dumb.

Instead of better roads and sidewalks, where has City Hall spent our money in recent years? Let's see.

A huge new $30 million City Hall expansion without a public vote that used money Ray Beck squirreled away for years that should have been used for infrastructure.

Millions and millions of dollars spent renovating city office space in such places as the Gentry Building.

Millions and millions of dollars spent on a giant parking garage nobody likes, to be shortly followed by millions and millions of dollars for a second giant parking garage.

Millions and millions of dollars for acres and acres of new park land, like the giant Phillips tract down south.

And on it continues, with the City Council just voting to spend $1.3 million to buy private land for -- guess what -- another new garage to support a hotel that is already receiving $6.9 million in TIF tax incentives!

These are not priorities shared by most citizens in Columbia, as the survey has rightly pointed out.

(Report Comment)
Nicholas Quijas June 13, 2011 | 8:52 a.m.

I'm glad to hear that the dissatisfaction over streets is being addressed. I love Columbia and, as somebody moving in about 2 months, I will really miss the great energy this town has. However, during the six years I've lived here I have been nothing but disappointed in the conditions of the roads. I was born and raised in Missouri, so I've grown up around bad roads, but Columbia's are just awful. The shear amount of pot holes that crop up every single winter, not to mention the enormous size of some of them, is crazy. Then you factor in the time that passes before even the giant ones are fixed, and it just gets ridiculous. For instance, this winter a pot hole formed on Old 63 that covered almost the entire northbound lane by The Reserves. That hole was there most of the winter causing people to have to go into the middle of the road...and even now it's not been properly fixed. Instead of a hole there is now a mound rising up over half the lane because they filled the hole about 3-4 inches higher than the road.
I'm no engineer, so I don't know what all goes into preventing this, but I do know that I never saw such bad roads back in the KC area where I come from.

On a similar note, while I love the bike friendliness of Columbia and all the effort that's gone into making bike lanes, they are yet another area that is not paid proper attention to when it comes to cleaning. Bike lanes are wonderful...unless they're costantly covered in gravel, trash, and once again, pot holes. I just popped a tire last week driving over glass that is still there...both bike lanes on Bearfield Rd have broken glass in them and I expect that glass will not go away for some time unless I go clean it up myself.
Hopefully Columbia will learn to better maintain its roads so that those who are not leaving this great city will be able to better use them.

(Report Comment)

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