Upper Arlington News

Guest column

City's infrastructure, funding needs are substantial

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I try to pay attention to what life throws at me.

Consider a personal experience from last winter: I was carting my three young girls to Optimist basketball practice when my car fell into a crater on Reed Road.

OK, it was only a pothole, but it was enormous and it shredded my right front tire.

I stopped to change my tire with my kids "helping" (you remember the scene from The Christmas Story, don't you?) That is when it dawned on me -- we have a dilemma in our city.

We want our streets cleaned after even a dusting of snow. But salting and running those plows over our old, tired pavement really tears them up. And our streets are in really rough shape.

Today I know firsthand how great the challenge before us is, because I learned more about pavement then I ever cared to know during my stint as a volunteer on the Citizen Financial Review Task Force.

Here is proof: How many center line miles do we have in UA (a center line mile is a two-lane equivalent)? Answer: 173.

Here's another one: How long does a full street reconstruction last? Answer: roughly 30 years. What about a repaving ("mill and overlay" as we say in the biz)? Answer: 12 years.

I'm a real hit at cocktail parties these days.

So what is our dilemma? The city has traditionally used estate tax money to pay for the bulk of its capital improvements. The estate tax has been eliminated, but we still have roads to fix -- it is really that simple. We could cut back on services, but we concluded that new streets all covered in snow and leaves isn't what our community wants, either.

We want good roads free from snow -- and we don't think that is too much to ask. But with all those miles, it requires a substantial capital plan to keep our streets in good order (and eradicate the potholes!)

After six months of poring over the data, our task force recently reported to city council. My subcommittee reviewed the city's 10-year, $113 million capital improvement plan (CIP). We reviewed it line by line and it is a legitimate plan to address our most critical needs.

Here are some key subcommittee findings that help tell the story of the need that not only my subcommittee but the entire task force agreed is very real:

* UA must invest in our infrastructure. The city has typically implemented a CIP from year to year, based on available funds versus actual need. As a result, we have fallen behind and it's becoming increasingly noticeable -- and that's just the infrastructure we can see.

* The 10-year CIP is comprehensive, designed to address our most critical needs and to help us catch up on deferred maintenance.

* Seventy-three percent of the CIP is dedicated to infrastructure improvements -- fixing our roads, water lines, sewer lines, bridges and sidewalks.

* $18 million is identified during the 10-year period to provide for important recreation facilities maintenance, to help keep our parks the jewel of our city.

* The CIP does not include plans to fund a community center, senior center, buried utility lines or new sidewalks. Its focus is on the basics.

Our conclusion was clear: UA needs to move forward with the CIP. It is a good plan and we need to invest in our community to keep it such a special place. It will come with a price tag, and I don't like that. But it will cost us a lot more not to invest in our city.

Oh, and my thanks to the UA street crews. Just a few days after my pothole incident, I made another trip to basketball practice and the pothole was filled.

John Ness is chairman of the capital improvements subcommittee of the Citizen Financial Review Task Force.

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