April 9, 2009 in Washington Voices

Repaving policy scrutinized

City will continue full repaving following sewer construction
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Valley will stick with its policy of providing all-new pavement where streets are torn up for sewer construction for at least another year.

Unexpectedly high costs this year – nearly $4 million – caused city officials to take a hard look at the program, but the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to press ahead.

The West Ponderosa, Rotchford Acres, Valleyview and Clement areas will benefit from the decision.

Steve Taylor, the council member with the greatest reservations, didn’t dispute the value of completely repaving streets instead of just patching over sewer excavations. But Taylor said he was “very concerned” that projects might be delayed on streets with much greater traffic.

Until they’re sure there’s enough money, city officials plan to hold off on this year’s plans to resurface Bowdish Road, between Eighth and 32nd avenues; Evergreen Road, between 16th and 32nd avenues; and 32nd Avenue, between Evergreen and State Route 27. With large contingency allowances, those projects will require an estimated $1.7 million.

Mayor Rich Munson said city officials warned voters in 2004, when they lifted the city’s property tax lid to pay for street work, that the city someday might not be able to continue its curb-to-curb paving policy. That day may be near, he said Tuesday.

Steve Worley, senior engineer for capital projects, said the Public Works Department has about $8.7 million available this year for an estimated $8 million of work.

He said previous sewer repaving costs have been in the neighborhood of $900,000 a year, but this year’s program is budgeted for $3,961,000, including $624,000 in related stormwater drainage improvements and a $305,000 contingency allowance.

The program began in 2005, in cooperation with Spokane County, which pays to repair the portions of city streets that are dug up to install county sewer lines.

For pavement alone, the county’s cost this year is expected to be about $4.2 million while the city will pay about $3 million. The county’s portion is paid from sewer user fees.

The result is that the city gets new streets for 42 percent of their cost, Worley said.

“This year, we anticipated, because the sewer basins were larger, that our cost would go up,” Worley said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate it would go up quite this much.”

Larger lots in this year’s project areas mean there will be larger gaps for the city to pave between sewer excavations. Taylor said lack of cost-shouldering density, in comparison with other parts of the city, was one of the reasons for his misgivings.

Worley said several other factors also contribute to this year’s higher costs.

More of this year’s construction will be on arterials, which require twice as much rock and asphalt as residential streets, he said.

Also, Worley said, more of this year’s work will be on hillsides where natural slopes allow shallower trenches for gravity-flow sewers. The shallower the trench, the narrower – leaving more of the street for the city to pave.

Hills also create more stormwater problems for the city to resolve, Worley said.

Taylor wondered whether Spokane County could scale down its sewer construction this year, but Public Works Director Neil Kersten and City Councilmen Dick Denenny and Gary Schimmels said that wouldn’t be practical.

“You can’t go back to the county at the 11th hour,” Schimmels said.

The county faces a deadline for spending a state grant to reduce the cost of replacing septic tanks with sewers, Denenny and Kersten said.

Sewer contractor Jeff Howe said “it makes total sense” to repave streets completely and gain years of extra use.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said many of the streets to be repaved are in poor condition. He said one in the Ponderosa area, where he lives, has cracked into 6-inch blocks of asphalt.

Darla Arnold, an administrative assistant in the Public Works Department, said she also lives in the Ponderosa area and wanted a “nice road” in front of her home.

In other business

•The council endorsed Kersten’s plan to ask Spokane County Road Division officials to help prepare a request for proposals from private contractors interested in taking over plowing city streets this fall, when the county plans to quit providing that service under a contract. The request for proposals is intended to guide preparation of specifications for a subsequent bid solicitation.

Kersten said county officials offered in a recent meeting to “act like a consultant for us,” supplying expertise the city lacks. He said he also is seeking advice from the state Department of Transportation.

An e-mail Monday from county Commissioner Mark Richard raised questions about the extent to which county officials are prepared to help. Richard said he thought commissioners offered “to do whatever we could do (to) make sure you were successful, but not necessarily that we would be doing all the work.”

Kersten assured Councilwoman Rose Dempsey that city officials are prepared to pay for the county’s assistance.

•The council agreed to vote next week on appointing the city of Spokane as Spokane Valley’s agent in acquiring – by condemnation, if necessary – a strip of land needed for a bridge over railroad tracks that cross Havana Street, which is the boundary between the two cities. The needed land is on Hite Crane & Rigging’s equipment yard in Spokane Valley.

Owner Gary Hite testified Tuesday that loss of the 10-foot sliver in question would block access for heavy equipment and make the rest of his property useless to him.

“This is essentially going to wipe me out,” he said.

James Richman, a Spokane assistant city attorney, said the city will buy all of Hite’s property and he will be entitled to federal relocation benefits if city officials determine Hite’s fears are justified.

A proposed interlocal agreement would make Spokane responsible for all costs and legal damages associated with the right of way acquisition.

•The council agreed to conduct a public hearing, tentatively set for May 12, on the Spokane Area Good Roads Association’s request for the city to endorse legislation to ban studded tires.

John Craig may be contacted by e-mail at johnc@spokesman.com.

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