Sunday, January 4, 2009

Economic Stimulus and Oakland's Streets

In looking at other East Bay Cities such as Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Concord, one has to wonder.... how do they manage to maintain their streets and keep them repaved to avoid third world conditions? Why does the City of Oakland have such a difficult time repaving its own streets? We often hear that in Oakland we pay a disproportionate amount of taxes, yet get so little in return. Keeping our infrastructure, such as streets, well maintained is a basic function of our local government. In this regard, the City of Oakland fails miserably. As with crime reduction, the problem here is priorities. The City Council and Mayor are too interested in funding other programs to pay attention to something as basic as streets. Thankfully, our newly elected Councilwoman, Rebecca Kaplan, wants to focus attention on rebuilding our infrastructure including our potholed, cracked and axle-breaking streets.

Oakland has a tremendous opportunity with potential federal economic stimulus dollars to invest in our infrastructure. Not surprisingly, what little we are hearing is not encouraging. Oakland has been late out of the gate in putting together its wish list thus far, and there has been scant public discussion and debate as to what should go on the list. We think that the City's transportation infrastructure should get top billing and that the Pavement Management Program (PMP) should be used as the basis for requesting funding from the Federal Government. This really is a no brainer. Repaving our streets benefits all Oakland residents and businesses.

In the City of Oakland, the City does a Citywide Street Survey as a way to update its PMP. The PMP is used to schedule repairs for the City's street network in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Regional, state and federal agencies that typically provide funding for street resurfacing projects require local jurisdictions to utilize a PMP and maintain updated street condition data to be eligible for future funding. To be certified by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) as having a PMP, all arterial and collector streets must be inspected every two years and all residential streets must be inspected every 5 years.

Depending upon the source (the numbers vary), the City of Oakland reports that it needs at least $27 million per year to maintain its 836 centerline miles of paved roadways on a consistent basis. According to MTC, Oakland's Pavement Condition Index is 52 on a scale of 0-100 (100 being the best). In October of 2006, MTC reported that Oakland's Pavement Condition Index of 52 ranked it as one of the worst in the nine Bay Area Counties ( 99th out of 107) with only eight other communities having a Pavement Condition Index lower than 52.

What is even more troubling is that the City, due to a lack of priority and funding, is on a 100 year resurfacing cycle.

Sorry, that was not a typo. One hundred years. This means that in your lifetime, and perhaps not even in your children's lifetime, you are unlikely to see your street resurfaced. Best management practices recommend a 25 year resurfacing cycle.

Clearly, something is amiss at City Hall. We know that our streets are poorly maintained. We feel the repercussions of this every day and we have a PMP to prove it. Yet, where is the priority with the career bureaucrats and the career politicians? With the federal government poised to distribute billions of dollars in economic aid, the City of Oakland should step up and request its fair share. The media reported the City putting together an $89 million infrastructure wish list of which $20 million would purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed properties as affordable housing. That leaves another $69 million for "other infrastructure projects" including street resurfacing. If you assume that all of the $69 million would be available for street resurfacing, which is likely not the case, it would only fund 2-1/2 years of resurfacing projects. While we have not been able to secure a copy of the $89 million infrastructure wish list, it is clear that the math does not add up when it comes to repaving our streets. The longer we wait to repair our crumbling streets the more it will cost. Rehabilitating our streets is five times as expensive as resurfacing. One has to wonder if the City of Oakland is simply waiting for the Hayward Fault to rupture and relieve it of its maintenance responsibilities, as repairs would then likely qualify for disaster relief funding.


V Smoothe said...

You can view the list of Oakland's requests here.

Scott Lund said...

This has been bothering me for a long time and now even more so after the Main Street Stimulus plan was released. Your post here finally brought me out of reader-only mode.

Oakland must plan better. There is no way we can only have $89 Million worth of "ready to go" infrastructure projects.

By comparison, look at the list provided by Santa Ana CA, a City of comparable size to Oakland. They listed $122,014,000 for street improvement projects alone. That's right, they listed more for street improvement projects than Oakland did for its entire "ready to go" list.

The paltry list offered up by Oakland drives home beyond a reasonable doubt that the Mayor's office and his utter lack of urgency in filling key city planning positions is bordering on criminal neglect for our city.