Waco’s streets are going downhill.
Road pavement around town is deteriorating faster than crews can fix it, and an icy winter and soggy spring have only accelerated the decline.
That’s the diagnosis of top city of Waco staff, and their prescription is to triple spending on preventive maintenance.
“It’s an investment in the future,” City Manager Dale Fisseler said. “Our numbers tell us it’s long overdue. I think we got behind on streets and need to catch up and keep up.”
The preliminary city budget for 2015-16 includes $5 million for work that prolongs pavement life: seal-coating, asphalt overlays and reclamation. The work would be funded partly by 20-year certificates of obligation and will not require a tax increase.
That preventive maintenance fund is in addition to routine repairs.
“This money is actually going to square yards of pavement, not to operations, not to utility cuts or pothole repairs,” engineering director Octavio Garza said.
Since 2009, preventive maintenance spending has averaged about $1.7 million a year, Garza said.
City officials also expect to use $450,000 from the current year’s budget for a high-tech “pavement management system” that would give them better information on street conditions so they can prioritize projects.
That involves hiring a specialized contractor to drive every street in Waco every three years with a van outfitted with laser scanners, high-resolution cameras and GPS sensors to collect data about pavement condition.
The city would buy software to analyze and map the data, grading street sections on a scale from zero to 100.
“That’s extremely valuable data to have,” said Garza, who introduced similar systems in San Antonio and New Braunfels before coming to Waco last year. “It’s one of those tools that if you don’t have it, you’re guessing at how you’re investing your money.”
Garza said the current method of deciding on street projects relies on staff driving around Waco each year and making notes of what they see.
The priorities are guided by a yellowing manual that city staff developed more than 50 years ago, when street maintenance standards were lower.
Garza flipped through the book and showed a photo of a heavily patched street, with a caption indicating that the street should be seal-coated.
By today’s standards, the street would need to be reclaimed or reconstructed, he said.
“This was very innovative in the ’60s, and probably Waco had the only system of pavement management in the state,” he said. “But we need to update it. This is not going to work anymore.”
Garza said it is crucial to have good data about pavement conditions so city crews can fix problems before it is too late — the equivalent of filling a cavity before it requires a root canal.
Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said that until the city has a good pavement management system, it is impossible to know whether $5 million a year is enough to turn the tide on street conditions.
“We were convinced we had to have a system for prioritization before we get started,” he said. “The way we’ve been doing it, we’re never sure that our money is getting to the most urgent needs. . . . We don’t know what it’s going to take or how many years it will take to get funding up to where it needs to be.”
Duncan said the city in the 1980s committed to funding an ambitious street improvement plan, but through the years the focus on funding preventive maintenance has slipped.
Councilman John Kinnaird agreed that preventive maintenance for streets should become a top priority.
“I would say they are below where I’d like them to be,” he said of Waco’s streets. “There are some stretches where they’re in great condition, others where they’re in really bad condition, primarily in the older parts of town.”
The city’s budget and audit committee has endorsed the new street program. It also voiced support for a $245 million master plan for replacing and expanding water and sewer infrastructure in the next decade.
Fisseler said city departments will work together so that street cuts for utility work can be coordinated with street improvements.