While other communities were playing street maintenance catch-up after cutting back during the recession, the city of Lodi took a different approach.
According to a recent report by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the city of Lodi decreased its street spending by 6.9 percent in 2011 while other municipalities generally increased spending an average of 3.8 percent to make up for spending cuts in 2009 and 2010.
The decrease in street spending reflects the city’s systematic approach to road work, City Finance Director Dona Newman said.
The city has tried to maintain a steady and cost-efficient approach to street maintenance by using a three-year cycle.
Instead of doing major reconstruction every year, a highly expensive endeavor, the city does full reconstruction projects (including curb, gutter, sidewalks and sometimes new water main installation) for two years. The city then does road maintenance during the third year to save money for larger projects the following year.
“Some years it will cost us a little more, some years a little less, depending on the distance of the street, its slope, condition and a lot of other factors,” Newman said.
The decrease in 2011 means it was likely an off year, Public Works Director Randy Herwig said.
The city bases its three-year plan off of a prioritized list of streets. Every street in the city limits has been assigned a rating through the University of Wisconsin’s PASER (Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating) system, which determines the condition of city streets on a scale of 1-10 (“1” is assigned to a very low quality road. “10” is assigned to a newly-constructed road.)
The PASER rating allows the city to work systematically on the 15 miles of road that fall within city limits.
“We don’t have any 1s. That’s pretty much a gravel road,” Herwig said.
But, the city does have 2s and 3s. Under the PASER system, those become high priority for reconstruction projects.
“The worst streets are addressed in an orderly fashion,” Newman said.
For streets that aren’t in desperate need of reconstruction, the city does crack filling and seal coating to preserve the street’s condition.
Asphalt crack filler – the dark, rubbery substance on a road’s surface – and seal coating – which looks like a whole new asphalt surface – are two methods of protecting the roads from further wear and tear, and for less cost.
“It’s important to keep up with the crack filling and seal coating because it’s the minimal cost for the improvement, but for the maximum benefit,” Herwig said.
If left unattended, water drains into the cracks, freezes, and expands, which causes potholes.
“I know it’s not very popular with the residents on the street to have tar put down because they can’t skateboard on it and it’s uncomfortable to walk across it barefoot for a while, but it really is a huge tool to maintain and manage the street. It’s a financially sound practice,” Herwig said.
The difference in cost between maintenance work and a rebuild is significant. Seal coating costs about 50 cents per lineal foot, while a complete rebuild of a street costs hundreds of dollars per lineal foot, Herwig said.
The average lifespan of an asphalt road is 20 years, but that can vary depending on the amount of travel it endures. While a high traffic road would need seal coating about every three years, a residential street may only require seal coating every five or six years.
Clark Street, Sauk Street, Lodi Street, Fair Street and Strangeway Avenue are the streets that see the most traffic, Herwig said.
This year, the city has done a complete rebuild -- including curb, gutter, sidewalk and water main -of Locust Street and pulverizing and paving asphalt maintenance work on a portion of Strangeway Avenue.
Herwig hopes to see money allocated in next year’s budget for more work on Strangeway and the west end of Lodi Street.
But, there is still the issue of cost, he said.
“It’s a fine balance between maintaining the streets and raising taxes to do it,” Herwig said. “You’re not going to have a community that’s going to have all brand new streets. By using the rating system and trying to do maintenance that we can, it all helps to prolong the streets.”
Next year’s street spending, along with the city’s other expenses, will be approved by the city council in November. A public budget hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.