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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Mother Nature heightens chronic street problems

If you just happened upon Spokane’s streets, you’d swear the city had been the target of an aerial attack. Pockmarking abounds. Potholes are impossible to avoid.

Of course, we know the reason: a relentless freeze-and-thaw cycle that has undermined the asphalt, especially on roads that were already in need of repair.

In what has been an especially wet winter, all of that moisture has seeped into the nooks and crannies of streets that weren’t in great shape to begin with. This happens every winter, but not to this extent. Just when it looks like the snow might melt for good, temperatures plunge and another storm arrives.

And if that weren’t enough, we’ve been hit by heavy rain, which has combined with snowmelt to cause serious flooding. February ended up being the second-wettest on record.

The extent of the problem, especially on residential streets, won’t be known until the snow finally disappears. But more potholes will unquestionably reveal themselves.

As the snow accumulated this winter, so did citizen complaints. The city’s initial strategy was overwhelmed by the sheer volume. After that, full city plowing went into effect, but the snow just kept coming.

Eventually, the head of the Streets Department was removed in what the city is calling a personnel matter. His departure has not been linked to complaints over snow removal, but public frustration was widespread.

Now the frustration has shifted to potholes – some of which are large enough to cause serious damage to vehicles. City crews have already filled about 1,300 potholes, or about one-third of the entire total for 2016.

The city is limited in what it can do given the resources it has and how much the public is willing to spend. In 2004, voters approved a 10-year street bond for reconstruction and maintenance, and they recently renewed the property tax that finances it. In 2010, the city tacked on an annual $20 fee to car tab bills to create a Transportation Benefit District.

That’s progress, but before those needed funding moves, the city had to put off repairs, which created a large maintenance backlog. The city was chipping away at it when this destructive winter arrived.

For the near-term attack on potholes, Mayor David Condon announced a plan Friday. The city is enlisting workers from the Water and Wastewater departments to help the Streets Department crews. Inland Asphalt will open its plant early this year to supply the hot-mix asphalt crews need for better repairs. The Streets Department will also be testing new equipment and materials for longer-lasting fixes.

The city’s plan for urgent action is welcomed.

But a long-term solution for the chronic disrepair of Spokane’s streets is needed, or the city will forever be in scramble mode. This winter added an exclamation point.

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