Get used to potholes

// City budget cuts will take a toll on street maintenance

  • ONE DOWN. City of Tacoma street crews repaired some 65,000 potholes under the current budget. They are projected to fix less than a fraction of that in the next few years. (Photo By Steve Dunkelberger)

Potholes are about to get a marketing makeover, because they certainly are not going away, and they are actually going to have new neighbors as the city enacts cuts in Public Works Department. Every department in the city was directed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax to submit biennial budgets that included 15 percent cuts as a way to establish a baseline to begin to manage the $63 million projected budget shortfall expected to slam the city in the next two years. That shortfall is the amount of money the city would overspend if it kept services and staffing at its current level because of higher health care costs and expenses as well as lower tax revenues. But numbers are hard to conceptualized. The budget “rubber” will hit the “road” for most residents when it comes to the streets in front of their houses or apartments that have potholes and dips that go unrepaired. The decaying streets around Tacoma are well known to drivers, and they might just become legendary. City estimates figure Tacoma streets need $800 million in repairs. Crews have spent close to $4 million a year in recent years to chip away at that roster of sunken roads and cracked concrete. That is going to change. But the “good news” is that the rising costs for roadwork will not change much with yet another two years of neglect.

“In all likelihood it will get worse, but it has taken a long time to get this bad,” Public Works Director Dick McKinley said. He will see his Streets crew shrink from 161 to 93.6 people. The city had been chip sealing about 125 blocks of street, but will do just 80 blocks under the budget proposal. The 67,000 potholes repaired in the last year will drop to about 3,000 as the city shifts strategies. Instead of cold-patching potholes within five days of being reported, McKinley wants to hot patch them instead. Cold patching is immediate but often requires crews to return several times, while hot patching is more permanent but requires warm weather. That means a pothole could sit a while, especially during the winter months. But it solves the problem rather than provides a quick fix that will likely need repairs as well.

“It will be a long-term conversation with the community to make this work,” he said, noting that residents will be advised to drive around the potholes – for several months – to avoid them from growing until hot-patchers can fill the hole. “I really want to redo how we think about residential streets.” As winter nears, the public works topic of the day was snow plowing under the next two-year budget. That is an easy answer. It will be half of what it has been in recent years. Snow removal will drop from 19 to nine trucks and emergency snow removal hours will be cut from operating around the clock until the snow is cleared to around the clock for four days as a way to control overtime costs.


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