Friday, November 13, 2009

NOPA Streets Take Hit from Recession, Lack of Repair Funds

Work on Divisadero Street will proceed on schedule.

Repaving of Baker Street will be delayed 18 months until Spring 2011.

Elections have consequences. So do decisions to keep issues off the ballot. As a result of the tanking economy and political maneuvering, San Francisco voters did not decide last week whether to approve a 30 year, $368 million streets repair bond measure. As a result, plans to keep the condition of our streets, sidewalks, and public stairs from deteriorating even more have been re-calibrated to reflect slashed budgets. Considerable delays in resurfacing the city's prime traffic corridors and neighborhood streets -- sometimes a 10 year postponement -- are the result.

For more than a year city officials refined what they considered a reasonable and necessary request of the voters: approve a bond measure to rescue our streets and sidewalks and public stairs from years of delayed maintenance. The Board of Supervisors approved preliminary versions of the bond and guided it through all the required hoops to put it before the voters earlier this month. And then, with only a few days remaining to meet the deadline for getting the bond on the ballot, city leaders withdrew it. Their reasons were not especially transparent, but insiders cited a mix of differences among the supervisors, resistance from business interests, and perhaps most importantly, voter research that suggested the worsening recession was no time to seek huge capital investments no matter how worthy the project.

North Panhandle residents will share the pain as they find repaving for a few of their streets delayed even longer, as much as seven years. A casual observer on foot, bike, or four wheels might easily travel through NOPA's thirty square blocks and think, "Well, not so bad, these streets." But according to the city's own inspection and ranking of our blocks*, the picture is anything but smooth:
  • 24% of our blocks require major repair or reconstruction
  • 43% of our blocks need resurfacing before they worsen
  • 20% need preventative repairs before the surfaces degrade further
  • 13% are fine for now, due mostly to recent re-surfacing
With the first two categories combined, fully two-thirds of our blocks need basic and extensive make-overs. For the status of each NOPA street, check this earlier post.

The specific impact of the reduced funds reflects what other neighborhoods will experience as well to varying degrees. How big a hit for NOPA? Take a look:
  • Central Avenue was previously scheduled for resurfacing in 2013; now, 2021. Several of Central's blocks are plagued with recurring sinkholes, and waiting until 2013 seemed much too long -- until now.
  • Hayes Street was also set for 2013, but look for relief no sooner than 2025 if the city's streets budget isn't resuscitated before then. Hayes, along with Central, were both rated in the "red zone" of structural and surface defects.
  • Baker Street fared somewhat better with only an 18 month delay, from October of this year to a start date of May in 2011.
Fortunately, the long-awaited makeover of Divisadero is secure, and the resurfacing of Broderick will move forward in fiscal year 2012/2013 as planned. Please note these dates are part of the Department of Public Works' Five Year Paving Plan with emphasis on the "plan." All the resurfacing dates are subject to funding availability -- things could get worse -- and other factors.

We'll take a further look at the city's "state of the streets" in upcoming posts. In the meantime, consider this: how would you have voted on the $368 million bond measure? And, yes, there likely would have been a "pass through" clause allowing renters to help absorb the costs.

*DPW inspectors conduct regular assessments of street surface conditions. Each block in the city has been ranked according to a Pavement Condition Index score. San Francisco streets now average a score of 64 on a scale of 1 to 100, a dismal borderline rank that hovers between streets that can just get by with preventative maintenance (filling cracks and seams and fixing potholes) and those that need full resurfacing (new asphalt) or reconstruction (replacing the concrete base). As might be expected, streets that slip into severe disrepair are significantly more expensive to repair. It's a straightforward choice for voters: pay a lot now or pay much more later.

A final note: Critics of the bond measure argued that basic street work should be financed through the city's general fund, not a 30 year bond measure that voters will be paying off even after some of the resurfaced streets have worn out once again. Advocates countered that major street reconstruction is a capital investment that requires sums of money that only a bond measure might provide.

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