DECATUR — Work on $1.8 million worth of city street repairs is expected to begin in July after the city council voted 6-1 on Monday to approve a street improvement program proposed by the public works department.
Seven asphalt roadways were targeted in the plan, including portions of East Central Avenue, East Division Street, South Jasper Street, East Wood Street and North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Improvements vary from overlaying fresh asphalt on the streets to reconstruction efforts.
The city will pay for the repairs through its local motor fuel tax, which is 5 cents on each gallon of unleaded fuel and 1 cent per gallon on diesel fuel, and also from city utility funds.
"Every 20 or so years, you've got to put some sort of major investment into the streets in order to keep them from falling apart," said public works Director Matt Newell about the improvements. "It's the same thing with maintaining your car, or your house, or anything like that."
Assistant City Engineer Griffin Enyart on Thursday said public works uses a 0 to 100 scale called the "pavement condition index" to grade city streets annually. In addition to PCI scores, other factors that city staff takes into consideration when planning street repairs include traffic volume, whether future construction work is planned and budgetary impact.
A memo provided to council members said the city's annual capital improvement list generally focuses on streets with a PCI rating of less than 75. About 41 percent of the city's streets fall below that rating and the overall condition of city streets has dropped from an average rating of 82 to 78 in the past six years.
Before voting on whether they wanted to move forward with the list of street repairs recommended by public works staff, council members were given the opportunity to share input or make changes to the list.
The proposal featured alternative streets that didn't score quite as high on the PCI, but could be improved if bids come in below estimates. City leaders could have also replaced some of the primary repair proposals if the council felt their repairs should take precedence over the staff recommended projects.
Ultimately, no changes were made to the project list. Councilman Pat McDaniel said that while he appreciated staff asking for the council's suggestions for the plan, he's not in favor of the council making those kinds of decisions for planned improvement projects.
"I trust staff," he said. "We're not engineers. You know what you're doing; you know what roads need to be fixed."
By approving the roads proposal, the council also gave public works the go-ahead to bid the purchase of a new spray injection asphalt patching machine to help crews provide long-term pothole repairs on Decatur streets. According to a memo provided to the council, most of the city's potholes are filled with a shovel's worth of asphalt — which is a quick, but less enduring method.
By using a spray injection system, the memo said, potholes can be filled with high-quality patches that last significantly longer.
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It can also help save the city $20,100 a year in productivity and material costs over standard patching methods. The city spent $396,877 in pothole patching costs last year, according to the memo.
"(Spray injection) is shown to be a better way to do it," Newell said, referring to pothole filling. "The best way to do a pothole patch is to square up the sides so it's nice and straight ... (but) we have no time to do that in pothole season, because that takes hours per pothole."
The city estimates that a spray-injection machine would cost about $100,000. A bid proposal will be brought to council for approval in the coming months.
Councilman Bill Faber, the lone "no" vote on the proposal as a whole, said he did not agree with using local motor fuel tax revenue to pay for the spray injector equipment. Despite voting "yes" on the proposal, Councilwoman Lisa Gregory shared similar sentiments about purchasing the equipment.
"If we continue to make purchases of equipment out of our local motor fuel tax dollars, I will not always be able to be a 'yes' vote," she said.
Speaking before the meeting, Newell said residents who live near streets included in the improvement plan will be notified before roadwork begins. He hoped to bring work bids to the council for approval in June.
Monday's council meeting also featured the swearing-in of newly elected Councilman Rodney Walker, and the re-elected Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, Gregory and Faber. Walker was elected to the council to fill the seat of former Councilwoman Dana Ray, who opted not to run in April's municipal election.
The council also voted 7-0 to appoint McDaniel as mayor pro tempore, who assumes mayoral duties in the event of Moore Wolfe's absence.