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Published December 11, 2013, 08:27 PM

Grand Forks plans to dedicate more money to maintaining streets

Starting in 2014, Grand Forks plans to dedicate more money to maintaining its street system as part of a federal push to focus on preserving roadways.

By: Brandi Jewett, Grand Forks Herald

Starting in 2014, Grand Forks plans to dedicate more money to maintaining its street system as part of a federal push to focus on preserving roadways.

The move will have the city upping its ongoing street maintenance and repair project spending to about $1.3 million per year.

That’s a 333-percent increase from about $300,000 that it was spending before the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century transportation bill passed in 2012 and set a goal for municipalities to keep road systems in a “state of good repair.”

According to City Engineer Al Grasser, routine maintenance projects in cities often can be overshadowed by projects deemed to have a higher priority.

“Maintenance tends to be the stuff that slips through,” he said. “The biggest needs rise to the top.”

In one case, that may mean taking money to build roads to connect a new development to existing neighborhoods instead of repairing a bumpy street.

It’s a tough call to defer maintenance, but one the city needs to make, according to Grasser.

“Otherwise, you’re stifling growth,” he said.

Maintaining

About $10.9 million in street maintenance and repair projects are slated for the next six years in Grand Forks.

Maintenance costs are just a part of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which features a six-year outlook for repair, reconstruction and new construction projects for streets, sidewalks, bike paths and bridges

In that time period, the total amount of project costs adds up to about $125 million. The full cost of these projects would not be borne by the city but in part by the state and federal governments as well.

It’s not a number that is set in stone either as projects could be dropped or added depending if money for them is available.

Among major city streets, Columbia Road and Washington Street have the most expensive project costs at more than $16 million each. Both could see major reconstruction in the next six years.

North 42nd Street has the next most expensive project cost at about $8 million, including reconstruction between University Avenue and Gateway Drive.

The cost of reconstructing a roadway is about $2.53 million per mile compared to minor and major rehabilitation efforts, which cost $115,000 and $460,000 per mile respectively.

One thing the city does have going for it is its concrete streets, which can go longer without repairs than asphalt. Grasser said a concrete road could structurally fail but still be more drivable than an asphalt road.

“You just may not enjoy the last 15 or 20 years,” he said, adding thing would be a bit bumpy.

Balancing act

The $125 million price tag doesn’t cover all of the city streets in need of repair.

Of the city’s approximately 250 miles of roads, about 40 miles require no action. The rest need some form of minor repair, rehabilitation or reconstruction — totaling an estimated $151 million.

At this point, the city’s expected revenue would be just short of what could be needed to cover its scheduled projects, according to the 2040 Long-range Transportation Plan for Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

That situation could improve or worsen depending on the availability of money from other sources.

Keeping streets drivable can become a financial guessing game, according to Grasser.

There are plenty of projects city staff would like to see completed but funding sources such as the state and federal government can’t always be counted on to grant requests.

“If you assumed ‘yes’ and they say ‘yes,’ then you’re fine,” Grasser said. “If you assume ‘yes’ and they say ‘no,’ then you need to go back and regroup.”

Finding more local sources of money can be tricky as well. While some street projects can be funded through sales-tax revenue others also rely on special assessments, a kind of property tax.

“And nobody likes special assessments,” Grasser said.

One way the city can complete these projects at a cheaper rate with less special assessments money is to put in roads before development surrounds them — making for a faster process with less interruptions for a neighborhood.

Grasser expects changes to the project lineup to continue as the city receives information from studies conducted on its pavement conditions and traffic safety and hears back about funding requests it has submitted to government agencies.

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