In The News › Public Works Director Seeks $50.7 Million for Streets

Oct 14, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

Public Works Director Seeks $50.7 Million for Streets

New Orleans CityBusiness
Public Works director seeks $50.7M for streets
by Jaime Guillet

Virtually everyone living in New Orleans would agree its suffering streets are a major detriment to a
first-rate quality of life in the city. Understanding that is easy.

What’s not as simple is a remedy, especially for a city with infrastructure built on subsiding soil. To
construct and maintain good streets, it will take one vital element — money — and lots of it.

But before money flows into patches and potholes, there is a rising call for accountability and efficiency
in city street maintenance.

A report on New Orleans streets from the Bureau of Governmental Research, a local nonprofit public
policy agency, recommends the city keep an organized pavement management system for its nearly
1,600 miles of streets. BGR suggests oversight of street repair with a technology-based program that
alerts the Department of Public Works to necessary maintenance based on the type of traffic on a given
street, frequency of use and repair strategies.

“The streets are obviously in very poor condition and there are limited funds,” BGR President Janet
Howard said. “Maintenance should be done in an organized, prioritized manner. It’s the only way to
stretch the limited funds.”

New Orleans Public Works Director Robert Mendoza said it’s time the city “take a hard look at what
we’re spending” on maintenance for city streets and drainage. For 2009, he will propose his largest
budget to date — $50.7 million, up from $17.8 million in fiscal 2008.

“We should always look closely at what we’re spending,” Mendoza said. “But look at what people say
they want. Good streets, good roads and no crime. I asked for a lot this year. It’s going to take us 15
years to get out of this and do it right.”

Mendoza agrees with BGR’s findings that maintenance is essential to retaining a healthy street
network. He said a quality maintenance program has been missing because his department has lacked
a sophisticated pavement management program, as well as adequate staff. Since Hurricane Katrina,
Mendoza’s staff has dropped to 150 from about 200.

“We don’t have pavement management,” he said. “We rely on a combination of (Geographic
Information System) tools and a database and spreadsheets. That’s good for a static view (of
maintenance) but not good for a dynamic ongoing view.”

Mendoza said quality maintenance will take a concerted financial commitment from the city via the
budgeting process. Right now, the revenue stream for Public Works comes from two sources: a
property tax that flows to the city’s general fund and a state infrastructure management grant.

“Funding is the big one,” Mendoza said. “Right now we are barely covering our basic needs. As BGR
found, we either need a new revenue stream or new taxes. No one is ready for a new tax. So we need
to try to push new revenue streams.”

Mendoza said he will have a “couple of ideas” for those new money sources by the end of the year. He
cites the Smart Boot as an example of a new revenue stream.

The program uses a mobile surveillance unit to scan streets for vehicles with outstanding traffic
offenses. The cars of the problem violators are fitted with a Smart Boot, which the owner can remove
when their fines are paid via phone.

“You improve compliance which improves revenue,” said Mendoza, who estimates the Smart Boot will
provide about $1.5 million in additional revenue this year.

Mendoza says it is necessary for the city to provide more money — between $40 million and $50
million annually — because it will be spending nearly $400 million on city streets over the next three
years from several federal sources. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent $42.8 million
to the city, an amount Mendoza said FEMA will probably increase.

BGR and Public Works estimate it would cost the city $1.6 million up front to implement a true
pavement management system, although Mendoza says after the first year the city would need only
“20 to 25 percent” of that amount.

“It sounds like a lot, but you should be eventually cutting the maintenance needs from your budget,”
he said.

Public Works is getting an advocate in the Young Leadership Council, which is beginning its own
outreach campaign on the department’s need for increased funding.

DPW is severely underfunded and they have no way to coordinate with utilities,” said Stephanie Pedro,
project leader for YLC’s Pave the Way campaign. “The budget is happening right now, so we’re just in
time for some of the parking and red light cameras to be redirected back to DPW.”

The city charter directs parking fees and traffic fines into the general fund rather than directly to Public
Works, but those fees eventually find their way to the Department of Public Works budget, Mendoza

City Council President Jackie Clarkson said improving streets is one of her top priorities and believes
the rest of the council shares her view.

“We are going to increase street money as much as we possibly can and more than we ever have
before,” Clarkson said. “It is absolutely a high priority on the agenda — the constituents have
demanded it be so.”•

Oct 14, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

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