Victoria to consider new residential street standards
April 12, 2014 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated April 12, 2014 at 11:13 p.m.
The price of inaction will cost Victoria taxpayers millions to repair the city's aging roads and utilities.
While it may take decades to catch up with the growing list of deferred projects that now exceeds $138 million, Victoria City Council is considering beefing up construction standards to slow the growth of crumbling streets and deteriorating infrastructure.
With a 4 percent increase in costs to residential developers, the city and its taxpayers will inherit pavement streets rated at a 50-year life span, rather than 30 years, which, in turn, decreases maintenance costs by more than half.
Steve Klein, owner of The Klein Companies, is the first developer in Victoria to voluntarily use the increased standards.
He started using the geo-grid technology, as laid out in the proposed standards, three years ago while working on the first phase of the TerraVista subdivision.
"Not all governmental ideas are good for the consumer," Klein said. "This one actually is."
He understands the value of good streets and the funding issues that led to the state of Victoria's neighborhoods.
"For probably 30-plus years, previous city administrations did not maintain the streets in our city," Klein said. "When you don't maintain streets, they fail."
The city started using the higher standards about seven years ago. The changes also allow for a 30-year concrete road to last the full life span with proper maintenance.
Councilman Andrew Young said the discrepancy was shocking, and developers needed to be brought up to par as part of the solution to get ahead of the overall street problem.
As for the city's responsibility, more focus needs to be on maintenance, he said.
"Why not build a better-quality road that would demand less maintenance?" Young said. "The ultimate goal is to reduce the tax burden going forward."
Mayor Paul Polasek agreed but said finding the funding to pay for maintenance is the challenge.
Unlike commercial thoroughfares that benefit from sales tax dollars, residential streets compete for funding against parks projects, employee raises, city operations and other general fund expenses.
At Tuesday's council meeting, Polasek will propose to let the public vote in May 2015 on diverting a portion of the city's half-cent sales tax to residential street maintenance. This would not be additional funding but would redirect a portion of the money from the Sales Tax Development Corp.
"The public has to understand that sometimes, it's more efficient to save a neighborhood with a little bit of maintenance and wait a little longer for reconstruction," Polasek said.
For some neighborhoods, it may be 2021 - when the city can take on $143.6 million in debt - before they get any attention. However, that is subject to change and the tax rate.
At the rate residential street projects are currently funded, it would be 101 years before one is rebuilt. The city has about 80 miles of residential streets that need reconstruction, and about half the subdivisions' utilities need to be replaced or rehabilitated.
Currently, the city budgets about $2 million to reconstruct residential streets, which comes out to repairing one subdivision a year. Public Works Director Lynn Short said he wants the project schedule to be more aggressive.
"At the rate we're at, the streets are on a 100-year life expectancy. ... The budget hasn't had enough money in the past to take care of proper road maintenance," Short said.
By changing the specifications for the base of the street, the proposed changes would increase the life of the road to 50 years.
On the heels of the council's decision to annex 728 acres into the city limits, Mark Loffgren, a Victoria resident, is concerned about the impact of future housing developments and who will foot the bill for their streets and infrastructure.
Loffgren has been critical of the way the City Council has managed development and points to 1980s-era neighborhoods as a testament to a lack of maintenance and poor street construction standards.
"There is a myth that when you annex land, it is great for the city," Loffgren said. "It is - until you have to fix the streets."
The increase in street standards will pay off for future generations of Victoria residents, he said.
"The whole object is streets should last longer for things that we annex," Loffgren said. "Yes, the streets might cost a little more, but you have 50 years, instead of 30 years, to pay for it."
The increase in standards should have happened decades ago when developers were constructing papier-mache roads, Councilman Tom Halepaska said.
"When I first got on council, the budget for street maintenance was $50,000," Halepaska said. "It was like trying to bail out the ocean with a teacup."
For years, city leaders passed the buck to the point where it's now do or die, he said.
"In good years, we can take care of maintenance like we should," Halepaska said. "As times start getting tough, guess what gets cut first? Things that don't seem to be critical - maintenance."