May 12, 2012 – Street Fighting, Man

Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution

– Jagger/Richards – Street Fighting Man

Anecdotally, and by experience, Seattleites know that their roads are in trouble.

A year ago the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC III) did a survey of Seattle residents and found “potholes/poor pavement” as the overriding concern for people in most areas of the city, and that “the most important transportation investments” were ‘paving streets and repairing potholes in roads’ (69%), ‘repairing and replacing aging or deteriorating bridges and overpasses’ (68%) and ‘improvements to most heavily used roads’ (62%).

But the challenges that we face in maintaining our roads inventory is daunting. Seattle has over 1,500 arterial lane-miles. 400 of those are in need of major rehabilitation with nearly as many again soon to be in that condition. Yet because of limited Bridging the Gap funds and other funding sources, SDOT is only able to repave at most about 40 lane-miles per year. And this does not even begin to address the 2,400 lane-miles of non-arterial streets for which SDOT does not even keep statistics on their condition. And of course there is the issue of sidewalks.

SDOT has estimated that for all of its transportation assets (roads, bridges, sidewalks, equipment, etc), there is a backlog of $1.8 billion in work necessary to repair those that are in fair or poor condition – and this does not even consider the non-arterial streets. Furthermore, on-going maintenance needs are estimated at $190 million annually, many tens of millions above current funding levels.

In 2011, SDOT’s 2011 budget was $306M, with “major” projects such as the First Hill Streetcar, Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall replacement, and Spokane Street Viaduct taking over a third of it, while maintenance was reduced to only $30M – a mere 10% of SDOT expenditures.

Kent Kammerer, in his last story for Crosscut wrote:

“Responding to questions from Seattle City Council members about why Seattle’s streets were in such poor condition, city Transportation Director Peter Hahn testified that Mother Nature’s harsh winter was what had caused roadways to break up. He also blamed global warming. Hahn did not mention that Seattle, unlike some of its neighboring cities, does not routinely seal cracks in roadways that allow water to seep under the paving. Nor did Hahn explain to council members that in the past the much-touted pothole rangers typically delivered a shovel full of asphalt into a hole and stomped it down instead of drying the hole and using a mechanical compactor to create repairs that last longer. (Finally, after years of faulty repair, someone finally got through to them because they now dry the hole first and use a mechanical compactor and seal the edges to create repairs that last longer. Meanwhile, miles of roadways were damaged by poor repair protocols.)”

Recently published is SDOTs “2012 Action Agenda” which on its face appears to gloss over the state of our failing transportation infrastructure and avoids detailing how SDOTs challenges will be met, instead focusing on the glossy subjects of ‘Safety’, ‘Building Communities’ ‘Supporting a Thriving Economy’, ‘Providing Great Service’ and thinly-detailed ‘Focusing on the Basics’. Nowhere is there discussion of how the city plans to fund this enormous amount of back-logged and on-going work or what the implications are for safety, commerce and communities because of neglect.

SDOT’s Street Maintenance Division has a staff of nearly 150 people and is responsible for the upkeep of the street pavements, sidewalks and related transportation facilities, and is dealt the hand of too much work and too little budget. In these circumstances, how will Seattle maintain its road network? What techniques are being used day-to-day to keep our roads from degrading further?

And how much worse will our road system get before it gets any better?

Our speakers this month are Steve Pratt, SDOT Director of Street Maintenance, and Ben Hansen, SDOT Pavement Management Engineer.

Why can’t Portland fix it’s rutted roads?

SDOT’s Street Maintenance Division’s report to Council’s Transportation Committee 2/28/12

by Bill Bradburd 5/11/2012


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