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84% of Alachua County’s road network in “dire need” of repair

NW 69th Street

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At today’s Alachua County Commission meeting, Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete presented the report from the consultants who were hired in November 2019 to create a pavement management methodology for the County. Gavarrete explained that a pavement management system is “a system that will allow you to look at your pavement, look at your assets, and provide a system that is not arbitrary, to be able to actually manage your pavement a lot better.” He also explained that roads are often the biggest asset owned by a governmental entity. One of his goals is to have a dashboard on the Public Works website where people can look at a map and then select any road to see whether it is currently in the list of roads to be improved.

Gavarrete said the consultants and his staff drove about 99% of the roads in the county to determine their condition first-hand. Roads were then assigned a Pavement Condition Index (PCI), and the cost of repairing them varies with the condition.

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Alachua County’s average PCI is now 60.1 (right on the line between poor and fair), but that includes subdivision roads that are in better condition (average PCI of 63.9). If you only look at the arterial/collector roads, the PCI is 57.9. The goal of pavement management is to keep roads in good enough condition that they don’t need expensive repairs. The repair techniques that are available in the first 10-15 years after a road is paved are much cheaper than the ones needed if the maintenance isn’t done in those early years. The costs start as low as $0.65 per square yard but ramp up to $44-$156 per square yard once the pavement is in fair to poor condition. Gavarrete said, “So if every five to eight years you do some kind of treatment, whether it’s a slurry seal, rejuvenator, or microsurfacing, and you keep your asphalt on the upper part, you reduce your maintenance costs.”

Alachua County has about 700 miles of roads, with about 1400 lane-miles. The current backlog (the amount of money needed to bring the whole network up to good condition) is over $408 million. 94% of the money in the pie chart on the left is for roads that require “anywhere from a rehab to a reconstruction… Or if you go by treatment, 84% of your network is in dire need of having some kind of rehab or reconstruction already.” Gavarrete said it’s “basically deferred maintenance for the last… 20, 30 years. We have roadways in this county that were paved 40 years ago.”

He showed several examples of roads in poor condition, including NW 98th Street, which will cost over $2 million to rehabilitate.

Gavarrete said they ran several scenarios with the software:

  1. Unlimited funding scenario – Determine all current network needs
  2. Current practice – Worst-first treatments with all funding going to higher traffic routes
  3. $15 million/year split by Low Traffic ($2.5 million) and High Traffic ($12.5 million) starting from FY2023
  4. Maintain current PCI = 60 – Maintain current network condition through the end of analysis period
  5. Achieve Target PCI = 70 – by the end of analysis period

Alachua County currently spends about $4 million per year; Scenario 3 would cost $15 million per year; it would cost $31.5 million per year to maintain the roads at the current PCI (i.e., just to keep roads in their current condition), and it would cost $41.5 million per year to increase the PCI to 70.

Gavarrete said that if they continue spending $4 million per year for the next 20 years, “your average pavement condition will go from a 60 to a 29, what does that mean? That means that you’re going to have a lot of roads that will be returning back to lime rock in the next 20 years. It’s going to happen. It’s already sort of happening.”

This chart shows the percentage of roads in good condition under the various scenarios. If the County stays at the current funding level, the percentage of roads in good condition will drop to 5-6% by 2023, and it will be about 3% by 2040.

Gavarrete recommended increasing the funding to $15 million per year, starting in FY2023, because the budget is mostly set for FY2022. He said that if the board gave him direction, he would come back with a program and the roadway list.

The discussion turned to how to fund the program. Chair Ken Cornell said, “We’re going to need more than bake sales and garage sales to get to that number.”

Commissioner Mary Alford said that roads in good repair can save residents a lot of money on car repairs: “That’s a lot of economic value.” She said that good roads increase property values and increase the opportunity for economic development. She added, “I am really concerned about climate change. I’m really concerned about the environment. I’m really concerned about the really hard work we need to do in equity. But all of those things have to sit on a foundation of what we do to run our county. And that foundation is things like, you know, fire and sheriff’s departments and criminal justice and roads, you know. It’s those basic things that we have to take care of. And then we build on that to become the place we want to be.”

Commissioner Anna Prizzia asked why gas tax dollars don’t get spent on roads. Gavarrete said they do, but 5 of the 11 cents in local option fuel taxes are designated for increasing capacity. He added, “We’re paying for deferred maintenance now. All the years prior that we haven’t done really what we should be doing, now we’re going to be paying for it.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut brought up a surtax as one way to raise the money for the budget increase to get to $15 million per year. “I think we are moving in the right direction. It’s just that the funding is not all there, but if the manager is being creative like she’s been in the past, I think we could probably reach those goals.”

Cornell said he was elected in 2014, and “that was also the same year that we had a referendum for a sales tax referendum, which failed. So I ran on roads. I got elected, but the referendum on roads failed… What I’m hearing this board say is we want to invest a significant amount of money, three times what we have done ever, $4 million to $15 million potentially — that’s going to require some really tough decisions. Like where do we cut our budget. … I’m in favor of telling the community that I’m ready to make a significant long-term investment in a recurring manner over the next 15 to 20 years because I think it’s good for our community. I think it’s good for economics. I think it’s good for all of the other things that we want to do if we have a strong foundation. But it means we’re going to have to probably cut some other things that we all really like… And we have to find maybe some additional funding sources. If we go back out to the taxpayers for sales tax and they say no, then, you know, they are saying no to the sales tax, you know, but we have other potential options with MSTUs or ad valorem or more general fund.”

County Manager Michele Lieberman said one option would be to modify the purpose of the unincorporated area MSTU and add millage to it (it was set to zero when the fire assessment fee was adopted). “A county has 10 mills in general ad valorem and also 10 mills in municipal services. So that doesn’t go in our original 10 mills; it goes to the 10 mills extra we have. The MSTU for law enforcement is low enough that we have enough room to do an MSTU for roads. In that manner, the public knows that it is cordoned off for that reason and that reason only.”

One mill in the unincorporated area raises about $7 million, but it can only be used in the unincorporated area, so municipalities would also need to join in the MSTU if they have mills available. Lieberman said they could increase it gradually by half a mill a year, but if they want all the money available in FY23, they’ll need 2 mills all at once to generate $14 million. She also recommended setting property taxes to the rolled-back rate to offset the increased MSTU tax. That would still result in higher taxes but would offset some of it. Then they could eliminate the $4 million currently in the general fund for roads and use the MSTU funds instead. Lieberman said, “My hope would be that after two or three years of this tax in place, and the public seeing all of this road work going on, that we could go back to them in 2026 and say we would like to propose a road tax… Because then we could cut that 2 mills off of our budget, and they will have a choice.”

No motion was made, but Cornell said he heard a consensus on the $15 million per year number, which is what staff needed to bring back budget and funding options.

 

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