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Oct 1, 2008

Street Smarts (October 2008)

Street Smarts: Maintaining and Managing New Orleans’ Road Network provides an overview of street management systems and explores the challenges New Orleans faces in maintaining its streets.

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

Today the Bureau of Governmental Research releases Street Smarts: Maintaining and Managing New Orleans’ Road Network. The report provides an overview of street management systems in general and examines the challenges New Orleans faces in maintaining its streets. It concludes with recommendations to improve street maintenance and management in New Orleans.

New Orleans’ street network has for years been in a state of ill-health. The last time the city surveyed its streets, in 2004, it found that 32% of the streets needed major rehabilitation or total reconstruction and another 34% were in need of immediate maintenance. In short, two-thirds of the city’s streets were crying out for some level of roadwork. The disaster of 2005 made a bad situation much worse.

Prior to Katrina, the city was spending $20 million to $30 million a year on street reconstruction. It expects to spend $162 million of locally generated capital funds for that purpose during the next three years. It spends a mere $3 million a year on maintenance. These expenditures stand in stark contrast to the need. The Department of Public Works estimates that it would cost $3 billion to meet rehabilitation and reconstruction needs and another $40 million to $45 million a year to properly maintain the streets.

While fully addressing the problem will require a long-term commitment of resources, there are actions the City can take to prolong the life of its streets and make the most of the limited available resources.

BGR’s report identifies the following problem areas:

  • The unsophisticated, and at times ad hoc, process for managing street work.
  • Inadequate coordination with utilities, particularly the Sewerage & Water Board.
  • The city’s utter failure to invest in preventive maintenance and rehabilitation.

To address the problems with managing street work, BGR recommends that the city establish and fund a pavement management system. Such a system would provide government officials with an objective assessment of street conditions, costs, and the proper timing of maintenance and other roadwork. It would help to rationalize the decision-making process, increase transparency and provide a basis for developing comprehensive roadwork plans.

BGR recommends that the city use the pavement management system to produce the baseline priorities for roadwork. It should allow Public Works to deviate from the baseline priorities when necessary to take advantage of opportunities to coordinate with utilities. Other significant deviations should be allowed only if they meet formalized criteria and receive the approval of the City Council.

BGR also recommends that the city formalize coordination among street and utility agencies. It should also increase the Department of Public Works’ oversight of street excavations by utilities, with stricter rules, more aggressive monitoring, appropriate fees and stronger penalties for non- compliance with excavation guidelines.

Finally, BGR recommends that the city take advantage of efficiencies provided by timely maintenance and rehabilitation. This will require the city to fund roadwork to extend the life of its roads before they crumble and require expensive reconstruction. BGR has identified funds generated by the Department of Public Works itself that may help to pay for these investments.

“Now more than ever, New Orleans needs the tools in place to make smart investments in its infrastructure,” said BGR President Janet R. Howard. “When it comes to the road network, that means a sound pavement management system and funding for maintenance to extend the life of our streets.”