Streets on Life Support

Springfield’s $10-million bond would address large backlog of roads before they ‘die’

The road to prosperity needs to be paved with more than just good intentions.

Springfield is asking its voters to approve a $10-million bond measure that would address the city’s roads that are in poor condition before they suffer a fate similar to Mill Street — death.

Funding the street repairs was a problem that was noticed long ago, and if the city wants to cement its investment in economic development, passing the bond is an important step, the measure’s supporters say.

The measure would be financed over five years of collecting additional property taxes. For the average homeowner in Springfield, the cost would be nearly $80 a year.

However, the tax collection would be spread out to include any property owner, meaning that businesses on large tracts of land would be helping out with the repair costs, too.

The city began to notice a structural problem with how street repairs were funded in the early 2000s, says Interim Development and Public Works Director Tom Boyatt.

Over the years with declining revenue from various sources, primarily timber revenue, the city has run up a $40-million backlog of needed street repairs — quite the increase, considering 18 years ago the backlog was about $5 or $6 million, Boyatt adds.

“Revenues have just not been able to keep up with a quality street preservation program,” he says.

In 2007, Springfield stopped receiving federal funding from timber revenue for street preservation and repair efforts. The city tried to ask for a fuel tax in 2009 and 2016. Those didn’t pass.

Since then, the city’s revenue hasn’t kept up with the costs needed to preserve streets.

Boyatt says Springfield couldn’t keep up with essential road preservation, and now the city is looking at repairing roads through peeling off their surface, doing spot-based repairs and laying down new asphalt.

The repairs would help protect already-stressed streets from the effects of weather. These road repairs would keep street surfaces in good condition so water doesn’t trickle down and erode the base of a road, Boyatt says.

An eroded road base means it must then be replaced, which costs taxpayers far more than preventative care. This is what happened to Mill Street. The city secured federal funds to pay for its replacement, but its cost is four times the cost per mile rate for a total street reconstruction, says Springfield Councilor Sean VanGordon.

“This is the best illustration of that road issue if you don’t spend time preserving streets. They fall apart and cost the taxpayer much more in the long run,” VanGordon says. “We’re getting [to the list of streets] before what Mill looks like.”

Of course, living in a region where rainfall and cold temperatures mix plays a role in negatively impacting the health of a road. Water expands nine percent after freezing and this freeze-thaw cycle expands and contracts, causing additional long-term effects in the road’s base.

Springfield’s streets could avoid a dire fate if the measure passes.

“In street maintenance, preventative is much more cost-cost-effective than catastrophic maintenance,” says Springfield Councilor Leonard Stoehr.

The roads selected by the Springfield City Council address four-and-a-half miles of streets that everyone uses, Boyatt says. But the list doesn’t include the streets in the worst condition because the intent is to repair and preserve.

The list of streets to be repaired will not be altered, city officials say, nor will the city hire more staff.

Among other streets, portions of Olympic Street and Mohawk Boulevard are on the list. Mohawk Boulevard has a total of 18,000 vehicles per day, according to the city. The cost to repair the road will be $2.1 million.

The most expensive repair on the list is Marcola Road, 19th Street to Springfield city limits, which will cost $3.3 million to repair and has a total of 11,500 vehicles per day.

If the city can get favorable bids for the initial list of roads, there are more roads the city plans to repair, says VanGordon.

When Springfield put a three-cent gas tax on the 2016 general election ballot, nearly 70 percent of voters shot down the tax.

There wasn’t an official opponent to the gas tax in 2016 and there isn’t one currently either. The measure’s only opponent is in its name: A tax.

But this is a tax that VanGordon says is supporting a necessary piece of infrastructure, roads.

“You gotta have roads to have a viable community,” VanGordon says. “If we’re going to have economic activity, infrastructure is a core part of that.”