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Columbus residents have experienced a summer full of road work on city streets, moving the city closer to catching up on long-delayed street maintenance, local officials said.
The city is tackling 24 miles of road repairs this summer and fall — as much as the previous six years combined. The extra work is being funded by money borrowed for a indoor sports complex project that was canceled.
But there’s another price for the improvements. The influx of road money has meant delays, detours and road equipment for motorists to encounter all around town.
“We think the public will be happy with the end result,” Mayor Kristen Brown said. “But in the interim, we understand it is an inconvenience and appreciate their patience.”
Brown said that when she took office, the city was almost $8 million behind on deferred street repairs. The city was maintaining less than a quarter of the miles of streets it needed to be doing each year just to keep up, she said.
Columbus has 259 miles of streets it must maintain, and a street lasts 15 to 20 years before it must be resurfaced, said Steve Rucker, assistant city engineer.
To keep ahead of the decay, the city should be resurfacing 13 to 17 miles of roads a year, Brown said. At an average of $100,000 per mile of street resurfacing, the city should be spending $1.3 million to $1.7 million a year on street resurfacing, the mayor said.
Instead, over the past 10 years prior to this summer, the city was resurfacing an average of 3.6 miles of streets a year with an average of $426,114 in the local road and streets budget, which comes from state-collected gasoline taxes.
This year the Indiana Legislature increased the amount of money going to local communities for road repairs, which will be about $350,000 more a year for Columbus. Even with a new influx of road-repair money, the city will still be running behind by $600,000 to $1 million a year.
The repairs are so far behind, Brown said, that the city is having to take additional steps before it can even resurface a road. For example, observers can see crews patching a street, then tearing up the same street and resurfacing it — which has led to complaints from residents who think the crews are doing redundant work, Brown said.
However, unlike the normal patching that fills a chuckhole, the crews are actually doing deep patching — repairing the street’s foundation, Brown said.
“We have pavement failure — the foundation of the street has actually deteriorated, mostly due to moisture underneath the streets,” Brown said.
Those crumbling foundations mean uneven pavement and increased potholes, which further hasten the deterioration of the road.
To help combat the moisture, the city has begun installing drainage tiles under new sections of street and improving storm sewers, Rucker said.
The mayor said there is no easy way to bridge the gap in the budget between what needs to be done and what the city has the money for.
Some cities have a wheel tax, assessed on drivers each year with their vehicle registration, as a way to raise revenue. Last year the Indiana Legislature gave some Indiana city councils, including Columbus, the ability to institute a wheel tax directly instead of working through the county councils.
“When we talk to the state Legislature about the gas tax distribution not being enough to maintain our roads in the municipal limits, the response is ‘You have the wheel tax available to you,’” Brown said.
“I know the public finds that very unpalatable. But we do have a problem and a gap we have got to figure out how to bridge. To continue to defer our road needs is something we can’t do much longer. And realistically, we can’t keep issuing debt to keep up with this. That would be deficit spending I wouldn’t recommend.”
All of the extra road work this summer is being fueled by about $4 million left over from bonds originally raised to pay for a failed outdoor sports complex. The project was developed under the previous city administration but ran into roadblocks, including a lawsuit and environmental concerns. The final obstacle was a newly elected mayor and City Council that officially killed the project last year.
The City Council decided earlier this year to continue paying on the bonds from residents’ income taxes but to use the money for major projects, such as the ongoing road repairs.
The city engineer’s office, which supervises the contractors performing the road work, has been so busy with this summer’s projects that the city has not been able to spend the road money it receives from the state, Brown said.
That means next year also will be a good year for road work, as the city will have more than three times the money it has had in years past.
Year State funds Miles paved
2013 $400,000 24.1
2012 $411,995 4.3
2011 $395,519 4.9
2010 $420,959 4.3
2009 $353,805 2.3
2008 $470,815 0.0
2007 $439,064 3.9
2006 $421,846 4.5
2005 $419,545 4.9
2004 $501,481 3.5
Does not include about $4 million in funds from the failed sports complex bond.
Road work schedule
Crews will be working this week on:
Tuesday: Paving Goeller Road from Westlake Hills to Oakbrook. Patching Pine Hill from Carr Hill Road to the end of the cul-de-sac, Catalina Drive from County Road 200S to the cul-de-sac, County Road 200S at Cross Creek.
Wednesday: Paving Terrace Lake Road from Shields Drive to Goeller Boulevard.
Thursday: Paving Goeller Boulevard from State Road 46 to Terrace Lake Road.
Friday: Paving 10th Street from Central Avenue to Werner Avenue.
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