In The News › N.O. Can Do Better on Streets, Watchdog Says

Oct 1, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

N.O. Can Do Better on Streets, Watchdog Says

N.O. can do better on streets, watchdog says
Minor repairs now would pay off later
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

New Orleans spends far too little money on maintaining its notoriously bad streets, but the city can do a better job even with its limited resources, a private, nonpartisan research organization said Tuesday. However, the group said, making major progress likely will require a tax increase.

The Bureau of Governmental Research report, “Street Smarts: Maintaining and Managing New Orleans’ Road Network,” says New Orleans’ streets have “for years been in a state of ill health.”

The last time the city surveyed its streets, in 2004, it found that 32 percent needed major rehabilitation or total reconstruction and another 34 percent needed immediate maintenance, the report says. In short, it says, “two-thirds of the city’s streets were crying out for some level of road work. The disaster of 2005 made a bad situation much worse.”

Before Hurricane Katrina, the city was spending $20 million to $30 million a year on street reconstruction. It expects to spend $162 million of locally generated money for that purpose during the next three years, in addition to $100 million in Federal Highway Administration money and millions more from FEMA to repair damage identified as resulting from Katrina, the report says.

However, it says, the city spends only $3 million a year on preventive maintenance, or minor patching that can postpone the need for major repairs by many years.

By contrast, the BGR says, Baton Rouge is spending $26.4 million this year on street maintenance, and Portland, Ore., is spending $50 million.

The city’s Department of Public Works estimates that it would cost $40 million to $45 million a year to properly maintain New Orleans’ streets and another $3 billion to rehabilitate or reconstruct streets so deteriorated that they need more than routine maintenance.

“Available resources fall far short of the need,” the report says. “Allocating adequate resources to maintenance will require higher taxes, a reallocation of resources or a combination of both.”

The city could cover a large portion of the $40 million a year needed for maintenance “simply by redirecting income generated by the Department of Public Works back to the department itself,” the BGR says, pointing to $10 million the city expects to take in next year from traffic tickets generated by its new red-light cameras and $8 million projected in net revenue from parking enforcement.

It says the rest of the needed money “could come from increasing and reallocating property taxes. In 2008, one mill generated $2.2 million in property tax revenue. To cover the balance and provide a maintenance budget of $40 million, New Orleans would have to raise the existing dedicated (streets) tax from 1.4 mills to 10 mills, an increase of nearly 7 percent in the citywide property tax rate.”

The city could begin by raising the streets millage by 0.5 mills, the report says. It also could explore reallocating the 1.8 mills dedicated to an economic development trust fund.

In the near term, the report says, “there are actions the city can take to prolong the life of its streets and make the most of the limited available resources” without increasing taxes.

The report identifies three key problem areas:

— The city’s “unsophisticated, and at times ad hoc, process for managing street work.”

— “Inadequate coordination with utilities, particularly the Sewerage & Water Board,” that results in utilities tearing up portions of recently repaired or rebuilt streets to install or repair underground lines.

— An “utter failure to invest in preventive maintenance and rehabilitation.”

To address the first problem, the BGR recommends the city establish a “pavement management system.” Such a system would provide objective information on street conditions, repair costs and the proper timing of maintenance and other work.

Although the city has a Utility Coordination Council that is supposed to coordinate the city’s street work with projects of the Sewerage & Water Board and other utilities, the BGR says that council does not appear to be working as efficiently as it should. It recommends that the City Council pass an ordinance requiring that all relevant agencies meet monthly and share information about their plans. It also calls for stricter controls on utilities’ excavation work.

“Now more than ever, New Orleans needs the tools in place to make smart investments in its infrastructure,” BGR President Janet Howard said.

Ceeon Quiett, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin, said Tuesday that the administration was still reviewing the BGR report. Although “there are obvious areas of improvement” possible, she said, the Department of Public Works “has been innovative and creative in the face of daunting funding realities and unprecedented challenges” since Katrina. “Street maintenance and repair remains a top priority for this administration,” she said.

. . . . . . .

The full report can be found at www.bgr.org. Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3320.

Oct 1, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

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