The $4 million in road repairs funded through the new Transportation Benefit District and its associated $20 annual vehicle fee will help curb Tacoma’s pothole infestation. But residents should not expect big changes from that effort alone.
Many streets are beyond repair and simply need to be replaced after decades of neglect and deferred maintenance. But the $4 million will be added to the funding pool along with about $30 million in grants to start chipping away at the backlog of needed upgrades.
City estimates put the price tag of road repairs at an $800 million backlog, but even that estimate is low and out of date since it was calculated in 2003.
“It was a good number at the time, but it is really not comprehensive. It’s going to be more, much more,” Interim Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver said. “It will be significantly more.”
Public Works officials are now conducting a citywide review of its road and traffic signals to detail the needed repairs as a way to tackle them comprehensively. That report is expected to be finished later this month.
“This is the first time we have done this and is really going to help us a lot to figure out where we are,” he said.
What is known is that about $2 million of the TBD funding will go toward residential street chip sealing and overlaying, with about $500,000 going toward work on main streets, city documents outline. Specific road repairs and pothole filling will get about $1.1 million. About $300,000 will go toward curb and sidewalk work and $60,000 will go toward upgrading traffic signals that are failing or based on outdated technology.
Overall road conditions around the city vary by neighborhood, with the worst roads being found in the Central and North End sections. About 55 percent of their roads are rated failed or poor. The best roads can be found in Northeast Tacoma, where only 14 percent are failing. The citywide street score is 41 on a 100-point scale, putting it at the bottom of the list of similar Northwest cities.
In an effort to be strategic with road repair dollars, the city is set to spend about $500,000 on a Transportation Master Plan that will outline traffic patterns for cars, bikes and walkers as a way to outline improvements and target projects with the most immediate impact and outline future work.
“The Transportation Benefit District is going to help, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” Kingsolver said.
Legislative changes to allow cities to double the vehicle-licensing fee to $40 are being discussed as well as potentially establishing a street maintenance utility. A levy lid lift is also on the discussion table to fund street work.
“We really have to think this out,” Kingsolver said, noting that whatever mix is used, the funding for roadwork has to be sustainable and predictable.
The city has 855 lane miles of arterial roads and 1,345 residential lane miles, which combine to be the same as a trip from Tacoma to New Orleans.
It is that scope that Tacoma City Council approved the creation on May 7 of a citizen-advisory Transportation Commission that would help the city on street and transportation issues. The 11-member group would represent each of the city’s council districts and advise elected officials of transportation matters around the city.