City's street repair needs, available funds must balance
As the orange barrels come out of hibernation and our road and underground infrastructure improvements schedule is rolled out for the season, we invariably receive calls from residents wondering why their street didn't make it onto this year's list.
I can certainly understand the frustration -- when you live on a street that has cracks, an uneven surface or crumbling sections of curb and gutter and you see it day in and day out, it's foremost on your mind every time you head outside.
This is one of those frustrating situations for all involved.
While we would love to be able to catch up on the backlog of work, the available funds have never matched the needs list -- and have, in fact, declined significantly of late, for reasons I will get to shortly. As a result, a detailed process of prioritization is undertaken biannually to identify which projects are most urgent and how far we can stretch the dollars.
That said, a lot of progress has been made since UA City Council initiated an aggressive seven-year capital improvements program back in 2000. The goal of this approach was to dedicate approximately $5 million annually to support projects, and we've seen far greater investments in several programming years.
The work has spanned the entire community: To the north, Five Points, Kenny, Fishinger, Lane and Reed roads have received attention to name some of our more heavily traveled streets, with a significant project beginning on Tremont Road in two years.
To the south, we have recently witnessed a lot of activity, with the work on Berkshire and Waltham roads, Lane and Arlington avenues and more.
We face two significant challenges as we work to address this arena.
First, the useful life of a road is limited -- averaging about 15 years, depending on a number of factors. Thus, our work is never done; no sooner do we complete a year's worth of programming and more streets fall onto the priority list.
Second, while finding the necessary monies to fund these expensive reinvestments has always been a challenge, it got much harder with the recent loss of the estate tax. Before this devastating reduction in revenue, we were able to dedicate an average of $1.8 million in estate tax revenues to infrastructure improvements each year -- basically, all estate tax monies received over and above the first $2.1 million.
As we look forward, we have not only lost this infrastructure funding source, our general fund revenues have been depleted by that lost $2.1 million annually -- a double hit.
While we do have some funds waiting in the wings to be used at this time, the pot is dwindling quickly, and we must identify new funding sources to be able to keep chipping away at the backlog of work. If we don't, the UA orange barrel may be sighted even less in the future.
A listing of this year's projects can be found at uaoh.net under the Headlines section. If you have questions about these projects, or how we rate our streets and determine when and where the work gets done, please contact our Engineering Division at 614-583-5360.
But please understand, our staff is working with a finite set of resources and therefore addresses the workload based on most pressing need.
Many of our city parks feature a mix of mowed turf and natural/wooded areas. The boundaries for these areas change occasionally for various reasons.
For example, Burbank Park lost forest habitat when the parking lot and athletic fields were constructed a few years ago, while the wooded areas around several creeks and wetlands in our parks have been gradually enlarged.
This year, the city is expanding forested areas by making adjustments in mow lines in several of our largest parks. In all cases, the areas being restored to natural vegetation are adjacent to existing forested areas.
Native trees and shrubs are being planted in these areas to speed natural succession and return the area to forest. Educational signage has also been installed.
In some cases, these changes will enhance buffering between park activities and neighbors to help counter the pending loss of countless ash trees in our park woodlands as well as the removal of invasive honeysuckle.
None of the changes will interfere with active-use zones, such as ball diamonds or soccer fields.
You may notice these subtle changes at Thompson, Northwest Kiwanis, Fancyburg and Reed Road parks.
The forests native to central Ohio provide a variety of ecological benefits and are a low-maintenance alternative to mowed turf. Moreover, decreased mowing allows us to cut back on costs and streamline the workload of a reduced Parks and Forestry staff without decreasing the quality of our parks -- everyone wins!
Theodore J. Staton is Upper Arlington's city manager.