POTHOLES2 (copy)

Rainwater splashes from a pothole on Bosque Boulevard after a car drives over it. City officials have proposed a $17.1 million streets budget for next year, a 70 percent increase over this year.

City of Waco officials have proposed budgeting $17.1 million for streets next year, a more than 70 percent increase over the $10 million for streets in this year’s budget.

The boost would be even bigger for routine street maintenance and improvements since most of this year’s street budget went to two major projects in suburban areas of the city.

City staff last month recommended setting aside $10 million for next year’s street work. But the City Council Budget and Audit Committee asked for more, and staff responded with the $17.1 million capital improvement project proposal at a committee meeting Tuesday, weeks before a preliminary operating budget will be released for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts in October.

“I think that’s a reasonable start for next year,” Mayor Kyle Deaver said after the meeting. “We’re trying to get our street program up and running, and I think that will give us a good amount that our engineers are telling us they can deploy and make a difference on our roads. We know the number needs to be closer to $25 million as we go forward. To go from where we were this year to $17 million next year is a step in the right direction.”

This year, only $3.2 million went to the pavement management program, which the city started in 2015 in an effort to turn around deteriorating streets. The rest of the $10 million budgeted for road improvements went primarily to rebuilding a stretch of Ritchie Road and widening of Speegleville Road near Highway 84.

600-mile network

In 2015, an analysis of Waco’s 600-mile street network found half the pavement was in “poor” condition. At the time, the council dedicated $5 million to the pavement management program and intended to soon double that.

At the last committee meeting, District 3 Councilman John Kinnaird suggested spending $25 million on the program, but City Manager Wiley Stem III said it would be tough to find that much money in the budget.

“Just as long the overall network continues to improve year over year, we’re moving in the right direction,” Kinnaird said of the proposal Tuesday.

After the meeting, District 5 Councilman Jim Holmes said infrastructure has been a top campaign issue for him.

“The infrastructure has gone effectively unaddressed from the last few councils, and I think it’s time to put some material funding in the budget to address infrastructure,” Holmes said.

On a 100-point pavement condition index the city uses, city streets have a 46.5 rating, down about five points in two years.

“It’s not just a one-year commitment of $17 million,” Holmes said. “You almost have to get in the mode over a five- or six-year period of really committing material funds to infrastructure, again, just to get it going the right direction.”

Deaver also said the city will need to continue spending more on street improvements than it has in recent years.

“It’s going to continue to be a challenge as we go forward to be able to move enough money from operations each year to bonding for streets, but I think it’s the right thing to do” Deaver said. “It’s what we’re hearing what the community wants. We’ve just got to be careful that we don’t abandon other programs that are important as we do this. It’s just going to be a balancing act, like it always is.”

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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