Metro

Voters to consider road repairs

By and
Senior Staff Writer & Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2012

 

Providence residents will vote Nov. 6 whether to approve a $40 million road bond that could create approximately 750 jobs and fix roads throughout the city, including streets in the Knowledge District and areas near the University. 

Approved by the Providence City Council in July, this ordinance affects roughly 65 miles of commercial and residential roads in Providence, 2.77 miles of which surround the University’s campus. Work would last from spring 2013 to fall 2015. Construction on College Hill – including sections of Thayer, Brook, Waterman, Pitman, College, Benefit, Meeting and Hope streets  – would not begin until fall 2014. 

“We know that fixing Providence’s deteriorating roads now will not only save money in deferred maintenance later, but is also one of the most important things we can do to support our city’s existing businesses and institutions and attract new ones,” wrote David Ortiz, press secretary to Mayor Angel Taveras, in an email to the Herald.

As the improvements are expected to be completed in fewer than three years, the 750 jobs – most of which would comprise construction work – would cycle out of the market when the repairs end.

The bond is in part a reaction to feedback from residents in recent years. Several residents have filed lawsuits against the city to complain about roads. In 2008, the cost of road-related claims and lawsuits was less than $75,000, but it rose to more than $235,000 in 2011. 

“The condition of our roads is one of the most frequent complaints we get from residents,” Ortiz told The Herald.

“It would be nice not to have my car suspension shaken to pieces every time I drive down Brook Street,” said Michael Danielewicz ’14.  

“Certainly there are a fair number of roads in Providence that are not in good repair,” said Richard Bungiro, lecturer in biology. “Anything that would fix them would improve safety and accessibility for the city.”  

A 2009 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials report estimated that Providence spends about $200,000 fixing old roads each year, wrote Providence Director of Sustainability Sheila Dormody in an email to The Herald. Since the report averages all Rhode Island cities’ road expenditures, the maintenance cost for Providence is likely higher than the reported amount, she wrote.  

Sam Zurier, city councilman for Ward 2, which includes the University, said he believes Providence should spend approximately $600,000 maintaining roads. 

The current road bond, which does not factor in any increases in road maintenance costs, will add $3.2 million of debt to the city’s annual budget. Zurier estimated that the road improvements will last 10 to 20 years, but the city will take 20 years to pay off the additional debt incurred by the bond.

“The bond money is a capital expense – it’s a big project with a long, useful life,” Zurier said. “The administration has made a case for the needy in that the roads are deteriorating so much that, if we wait to do this later, it will cost much more.”

But he added that the city needs to improve its road maintenance program in concord with the improvements. “It would be very short-sighted to borrow $40 million and not invest the extra $400,000 a year to maintain the roads,” Zurier said.

Will Touret, former president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, said he disagreed with the city’s decision to use the bond sale for large-scale road improvements. “If a street is one-third in bad shape, why do you repave the whole street? It’s a one-size fits all, and it’s a very expensive undertaking,” he said.

The city should not prioritize the conditions of Providence’s roads over what he called “out-of-control” taxes, Touret added. “It’s like we maxed out the credit card, we paid a little bit of it down, and that means we should max it out again.”

Providence currently has the second-highest commercial tax rate in the nation, according to the most recent 50-State Property Tax Comparison Study, published in 2011.

Streets were chosen for improvement through a pavement management analysis administered by civil engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin. Each street in Providence was ranked according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Pavement Condition Index, which examined the pavement distress of each road. The firm also took into consideration the amount of traffic expected each day, the life expectancy of the repair and the cost of repair for each road. 

This marks a necessary analytical shift, Zurier said. In the past, elected officials selected streets for improvement, she said.

At an Oct. 2 forum – the second of five meetings Taveras is holding to explain the bond – a representative from Providence’s financial department said that prospective residents would be more inclined to settle down in Providence when they saw the improved streets, Touret said. In response to this position, Touret told The Herald, “They might think that until they see what the tax rates are. They’re going to say, ‘Let’s get on these great roads and get out of town even faster and go to Massachusetts!'”

At the most recent forum meeting, public support for the bond measure still appeared divided, Zurier said.  

 

– With additional reporting by Sona Mkrttchian