Council considers state of the streets
The state of Norwood Young America’s streets has been a popular topic for city officials this year. Last month the council heard a report from city engineer Kreg Schmidt and authorized a feasibility study as the first step toward significant street repairs, possibly in the near future.
Council members have taken a tour of city streets, and Schmidt and Jake Saulsbury of Bolton & Menk have taken time to evaluate each and every street in the city and categorize them according to the extent of improvements needed.
On Oct. 8 Schmidt presented the council with a map of the entire city with the recommended improvements for each street marked. Of about 23 total miles of street in the city, Schmidt presented the following breakdown:
• About a quarter of the city’s streets (5.6 miles) are in need of complete reconstruction — the most extensive, and costly, type of repair.
• Roughly another quarter of the streets (4.9 miles) could be milled and overlaid — a process that, even at its most expensive level, is still only half the cost of reconstruction.
• Nearly 40 percent of the city’s streets (8.8 miles) are in relatively good condition and need only routine seal coat maintenance.
• The remainder of the city’s streets (4 miles) double as county roads and are maintained by the county.
General estimated costs to pursue those repairs were about $200-$400 per lineal foot for reconstruction (a total of roughly $6 to $12 million), about $60-$100 per foot for mill and overlay work ($1.6 to $2.6 million), and $4 to $10 per foot for seal coating ($200,000 to $500,000).
Council members discussed a plan to repair all streets marked for mill and overlay in 2013 and 2014 during their Oct. 8 meeting. Schmidt informed the council that such a plan would fix about five miles of city streets at a lower cost relative to reconstruction, and added that some of the streets so classified could soon degrade into the reconstruction category if not addressed.
At the same time, he urged the council not to delay major reconstruction projects for long.
“Many of the streets in the ‘Reconstruct’ category are in a high degree of degradation that will become appreciably worse very quickly in the near term (2 to 5 years),” he wrote in his report.
Pursuing the mill and overlay plan, however, would delay additional reconstruction projects for at least three years (the next two streets in line for reconstruction are currently South Street and 2nd Avenue). Still, Schmidt said he felt the benefits of pursuing the mill and overlay-only approach for the next two years would be beneficial. The “useful life for the improvements” through mill and overlay work would extend for about 7-10 years.
“In general, I think it’s a good way to achieve what the city council has been talking about doing,” he said.
Councilor Dick Stolz agreed.
“Personally, I think this approach in general makes the most sense, because we spend so much money on that utility work and the citizens don’t see anything,” he said, referring to the fact that many recent street reconstruction projects have included associated utility upgrades that have raised the overall cost of the projects. “The citizens equate progress on streets with how nice and smooth that road is, not what’s underneath it.”
Stolz clarified that he understood the necessity for utility improvements and agreed they should be done, but added that fixing five miles of streets in two years, rather than a few blocks at a time with a reconstruction project, would be beneficial.
Schmidt said that because many utility concerns have been addressed with recent projects, a greater focus on the streets themselves was possible for the next two years with the mill and overlay project. In addition, while both the South Street and 2nd Avenue projects would entail utility work as well, most of the pressing needs have now been addressed.
“Many of the street reconstruction projects completed over the last 10 years have addressed the most serious utility issues facing the city while the reconstruction projects that remain have less severe utility related issues,” Schmidt said in his report. “This will have the effect of both lowering the costs of the future reconstruction projects relative to past projects and enabling the city to reconfigure the plan without ignoring pressing utility related issues that should not be ignored.”
Mayor Tina Diedrick said she favored the plan because it will repair streets that need it at a relatively efficient cost.
“[Mill and overlay projects are] a nice in-between step from seal coating to reconstruction that I don’t think had serious discussion before,” she said.
In order to move ahead with the plan, Schmidt recommended that the council modify its assessment policy to include 33 percent of the cost for milling and overlay work and pursue the sale of Chapter 429 Improvement Bonds (which require that at least 20 percent of the improvements costs are assessed to the benefiting property owners).
Schmidt estimated that the impact on a typical residential lot would be in the range of $1,400 to $2,000 over a 10-year period. Under the city’s current assessment policy mill and overlay work is not assessed, so the council intends to hold a public hearing regarding that change before giving the final go-ahead for the project.
“My experience in Norwood Young America has been that people understand that we need to maintain the streets. And even when we have assessments in the $6-$7,000 range, there isn’t a lot of pushback,” Schmidt told the council.
When the council asked what other funding alternatives were available, Schmidt said the assessment and bonding plan set forth was the best option.
In general, the council seemed to be in favor of the plan, but Stolz said that before the final go-ahead is given he wants to have a discussion about the associated debt load.
“I don’t want to get so far we can’t back up,” he said.
The council expects to view a feasibility study for the project in November, hold a public hearing regarding the proposed assessment change and eventually receive bids for the work early next spring. After bids are received the council can make a final decision on whether or not to move ahead with the project.