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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

City potholes spread along with fund woes

No repairs in sight for crumbling streets

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Damon McCullough recently placed an orange cone in a large pothole on West Delaware Avenue in Toledo. Mr. McCullough, who lives on the street, said he has complained to the city about its condition.
Damon McCullough recently placed an orange cone in a large pothole on West Delaware Avenue in Toledo. Mr. McCullough, who lives on the street, said he has complained to the city about its condition.
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Damon McCullough doesn’t sell cars, but if you’re looking to buy he has some advice.

“You wanna test drive a car, come down here,” Mr. McCullough said. “You’ll hear ball joints knock and clang and bang.”

For five years, Mr. McCullough has lived on West Delaware Avenue a few blocks from downtown. For five years he’s been calling the city, begging someone to come fix his street.

On a recent spring day, Mr. McCullough walked from Collingwood Boulevard to his home in the 200 block of Delaware. He said hello to his neighbors, mentioned plans to take advantage of the sunny day to cut his lawn, and bemoaned the condition of West Delaware.

There are ruts and bumps, dips and humps, exposed bricks, and more patched potholes than he can count. Mr. McCullough wedged an orange traffic cone into a particularly deep hole in the westbound lane to warn motorists.

“You see them up there,” he said, gesturing to similarly large potholes at the intersection. “They’re real bad. It’s just ugly.”

Although West Delaware has an enthusiastic host, the street itself isn’t unusual in its need of serious smoothing. Across the city are many that need substantial repair.

Using data gathered by the University of Toledo in 2008 and 2009, the city’s division of engineering services lists the condition of 27 streets as very poor — those scoring fewer than 59 points on a 100-point scale.

Despite West Delaware’s problems, it doesn’t make the cut of the worst of the worst. And despite the deplorable condition of many miles of city streets, it’s unlikely much work will be done this year to make them any better.

“In the past we’ve been able to pave 35 to 40 miles per year,” Councilman George Sarantou said. “This year we just simply don’t have the money. There are no grants coming from Washington, D.C., we can’t borrow that kind of money at this point. We have $50,000 in our budget stabilization fund. If we get any extra money for repaving of residential streets, it’s going to be a miracle.”

This year and last, the city’s capital budget was dinged by about $7 million as the administration transferred money out to balance the general fund. The measure, approved by voters in 2010, allows the transfer through 2012.

“It is unfortunate [that] we are robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Councilman Paula Hicks-Hudson said. “We need to look at ways to reduce expenditures and also ways to increase revenue so we can get back to taking care of the streets.”

Aging streets

Bill Franklin, who was Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s public service director, said the city’s streets are in worse shape than they’ve ever been.

“They’re just getting older,” Mr. Franklin said. “They’re past their design life and they’re going to keep getting worse. We determined you’d have to pave about 100 miles a year to keep the streets in tip-top shape.”

Streets, he said, are expected to last about 25 years. But Toledo’s paving boom was in the 1920s, and the city has been losing population since the 1970s. That means less money to take care of aging streets. Mr. Franklin also says Toledo’s roads weather more freeze-thaw cycles than just about anywhere else in North America.

“We’re probably in the worst area there is,” he said.

In Ms. Hicks-Hudson’s district, the area around Central Avenue seems to be bad, as well as many of the streets off Collingwood Boulevard, one of which has the dubious honor of making the worst-streets list. Emmet Street, deemed the fourth worst in District 4, runs from Collingwood to Gladstone Avenue between a vacant lot with high grass and a small tire shop. It’s a short section — maybe 300 feet — but between patched potholes and fissures, there’s hardly a smooth section of blacktop to be found.

Farther south on Collingwood near the intersection with Arcadia Avenue, valleys in the concrete street have been filled with patch that has mostly either sunken in or cracked out. Arcadia itself is in rough shape, with large sections of blacktop missing to reveal a surface made mostly of reddish-brown bricks stamped “Athens Block.” Neither is on the worst-streets list.

In an interview this month, Steve Herwat, deputy mayor for operations, said the city had dedicated $3.5 million for major streets and was “evaluating what kind of program, if any, we can have for the residential streets.”

Mr. Herwat said in an interview this month that the administration authorized city engineers to start work on a $2.5 million plan, although the administration was waiting on more information from the finance department before giving a final OK.

Mr. Herwat did not return calls seeking additional information for this story.

City spokesman Bill Stewart said Thursday he did not know the city’s planned spending, but he did say top officials are re-evaluating the 2011 street paving program.

“At the beginning of the year, the plan wasn’t to do much, but the streets are in such disrepair right now, they’re really rethinking the whole thing,” Mr. Stewart said.

Some streets have been in disrepair for years.

“Hoag [Street] is bad. That has been one of the residential streets that even when I was commissioner we would have several calls on,” said Theresa M. Gabriel, who was commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor in 1997 and 1998 under Mayor Finkbeiner. She retired from the city as his assistant chief of staff.

Although Ms. Gabriel said the streets are certainly bad now, they’re not the worst she’s seen since taking her first city job in 1963.

“I would go back to during the [Doug] DeGood administration. We had union unrest, we had all kinds of problems,” she said. “We had no money.”

Mr. DeGood was mayor from 1977 to 1983.

Costly repair work

To be sure, fixing streets is expensive.

In general, a simple resurface (also called a mill and fill) on one mile of residential street costs about $400,000, said Doug Stephens, senior professional engineer with the city’s division of engineering services. A complete reconstruction — in which crews dig down to the base and build the street all the way back up — costs on average three times as much, $1.2 million a mile.

With streets across the city in various states of disrepair, it adds up quickly.

“There’s a tremendous need out there,” said Dave Dysard, administrator of public service with the division of engineering services. “We probably could use every capital improvement project dollar this year and we’d love it. But that’s not realistic. There are competing needs for the different departments and different areas. That’s what council does for a living. We really don’t have a set figure at this point.”

CLICK HERE FOR AN INTERACTIVE MAP ON TOLEDO'S WORST ROADS

How much of the capital improvement project budget will be marked for street repairs and resurfacing isn’t clear. The city administration hasn’t given council a 2011 capital budget. Mr. Stewart said it would be out within a few weeks, but many council members aren’t optimistic about the numbers they’ll see.

“If there is any residential repaving to be done, I don’t know about it,” said Councilman Mike Craig, who represents District 3. “And I’ll tell you, I’m not any different than any other council district. I have got streets everywhere — main streets, residential streets, secondary streets — that need repaving.”

In Mr. Craig’s East Toledo district sections of seven streets — Rall, Plumer, Wilton, Liberty, Lebanon, Leland, and Remington — are listed as very poor, meaning a total reconstruction from the base up is needed.

“Wow. Those are all in one area. They’re all in Oakdale,” Mr. Craig said after hearing the list. “I wonder if they drove around the rest. Take a drive down Broadway.”

East Broadway, the councilman said, is bad from one end of his district to the other. At the intersection with Woodville Road, near a U-Haul store, northbound drivers have little chance of averting the potholes when turning right onto East Broadway. Some of the holes are more than two inches deep, going through several layers of pavement and patch. The street surface itself is pocked with cracks.

Condition ratings

Mr. Stephens said the statistics, gathered by the University of Toledo in 2008 and 2009, look at everything from the base to the surface. Trained eyes can read the frequency and severity of cracks, holes, and upheavals at the surface to judge the condition of a street as a whole. The number is expressed as a Pavement Condition Rating — a measurement widely accepted by state and federal transportation officials.

So it doesn’t necessarily mean the streets on that list are the roughest for motorists, but they’re all candidates for complete reconstruction. Mr. Stephens cautions, however, that the list isn’t a ranking of street projects.

“A lot of times [with] our program, you’re not going to see all the worst streets,” he said. “You’re going to see some of the worst and some that are in so-so to OK condition to keep them from becoming the worst.”

The decisions on which streets to fix are based on resident complaints, coordination with waterline and sewer work, suggestions from the administration and City Council, and input from the engineer’s office. Another factor is the number of people a street serves.

“One street might be a street that’s a dead end with eight homes on it. Another street that’s rated a bit higher but still has the same need could be a main entrance to 1,500 residents in the neighborhood,” Mr. Stephens said.

Ms. Gabriel said decisions have long been made on traffic volume, as well as on which projects the city can leverage state or federal funding.

Mr. Stewart declined to name streets being considered for work this year.

“There are a number of streets we’re thinking about. If we say it and don’t get to it or it gets pushed back, people are complaining,” he said.

Voicing concerns

Mr. McCullough already is complaining. He said the city never has done more than send crews with hot patch. He wants to see West Delaware completely redone in front of his tidy white home in the 400 block.

“This whole entire strip,” he said. “The next block is as bad too, but doctors, everybody that works at the hospital, this is their main strip. From Detroit down Delaware, you get to see nice homes. It’s a quick route.”

Though the $7 million a year that’s been coming out of the capital improvement fund represents a considerable pot of money that could be directed toward street repairs, many current and former city officials say voters are more comfortable seeing money go to police patrols than pothole crews in lean times.

“If you put it on the ballot and said, ‘pick police, fire, or roads’, I think people would probably pick police and fire. Streets would be third,” Mr. Franklin said.

Many on council also say street complaints fall below issues such as public safety and abandoned homes. However, councilmen consistently rank that as a top five concern from residents. They say it should also be a top-five priority for the city.

“It obviously has to fall below safety services and trash, but it should be right up there, especially in a climate like Toledo’s. This isn’t Atlanta, where the biggest thing to happen is a big rain storm. We have freeze and thaw several times during the winter and it’s very hard on the streets,” Mr. Craig said.

A large pothole awaits drivers on Arcadia Avenue at Collingwood Boulevard. Neither of the streets is on the list of worst streets, however. A large pothole awaits drivers on Arcadia Avenue at Collingwood Boulevard. Neither of the streets is on the list of worst streets, however.
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Others on council have questioned the priority of streets in Mayor Mike Bell’s capital improvement plan. Mr. Sarantou and Councilman Lindsay Webb have been critical of a proposal to take over some of shuttered Libbey High School’s outbuildings from Toledo Public Schools.

When asked how difficult it is to find money for street repairs during a recession, Ms. Gabriel, who was promoted to administrative operations officer in 1983, said it’s all about priorities.

“It’s always hard to find money in the budget if that is not one of your high priorities,” she said, noting maintenance of parks and streets had suffered at one time in the mid-1990s. She went on to say she thinks “each administration sets their priorities differently.”

Mayor Bell’s priority, she said, seems to be economic development. She said she couldn’t say where streets fell on his list, as she hadn’t discussed that with people from his administration.

Mr. Craig didn’t think streets were a top-five issue for Mayor Finkbeiner or Mayor Bell, though he said it’s hard to place blame for that, given the financial shape of the city.

Still, as a councilman, he said it’s difficult for him to prioritize while waiting on the capital improvement plan.

“It’s hard to make good decisions when you can’t see the whole budget,” Mr. Craig said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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