The Greeley city engineer said he personally would like to see a $5 or $6 gasoline tax to properly fund street repair, saying that with the current funding system the city could end up spending the entire budget amount for patching in coming years leaving nothing for new streets.
Steve Bagley, City Engineer for Greeley, told the Gazette that the city currently has approximately $3 million available for street maintenance and repairs. That amount comes exclusively from the food tax passed by voters in 1990. The city council does occasionally provide some leftover funds for street repair, but Bagley says that rarely happens. The city spends nearly all leftover funding, the latest on the unnecessary murals wrapping around entire city buses.
He went on to say that while there is no magic number regarding the correct amount for street funding, ideally the city needs $10-12 million to fund repairs and new construction adequately. Currently, they are doing little more than putting band-aids on the roads.
Contrary to the apparent mandate by citizens last November for the city to work more efficiently and find the money to repair and lay new roads with the current budget, Bagley commented, “It really comes down to what quality of roads do the citizens want.” According to Bagley, with the exception of pothole repair, the city has nothing major budgeted for side streets. He went on to explain the city does keep track of road conditions by having workers drive specially-equipped vans down the streets and compile information on surface stresses which everyone can see, drivability and structural strength underneath. It is possible to have a street that looks terrible on the surface but has great structural strength underneath. For instance, on many roads on the east side of town the foundation is more solid than on the west side.
Bagley explained that the $3 million from the food tax is not just spent on streets. The city spends around $30,000 for parking lots. Another $30-50,000 is spent to maintain 50 bridges. The city also spends around $150,000 for concrete repairs, however, he points out that, per city ordinance, homeowners are responsible for sidewalk and gutter repairs in front of their homes. If a homeowner does not do needed repairs, the city will do it and bill the cost to the homeowner.
The city also spends $500,000 simply patching existing streets. Bagley said with the current funding they are mostly limited to patching streets at the expense of other types of repairs such as resurfacing. “One of my biggest fears is that the patching budget will keep increasing and consume most of the budget since we don’t have the funds to properly resurface the streets. With current funding levels it is only going to get worse.”
Regarding funding he mentioned several options including a street utility fee such as Loveland has which is added to residents’ utility bills and raises around $1.5 million/year. When asked about a gas tax which some large cities have passed he said he did not think it would be viable in Greeley but did feel such a tax should be increased to pay for proper road maintenance.
“I think the gas tax is way too low. I don’t like paying for gas either but I think it should be five or six dollars. If you go to Europe you pay five to eight dollars per liter and most of it is tax. Politically, nobody wants to do that but it would give us the funding we need.”
He said with the taxes, Europe builds roads to a much higher standard than we do in America. The current life expectancy of roads in the US is 20 years compared to 40 in Europe.
He explained that from a cost and engineering standpoint it would not cost much more to increase a road’s lifespan from 20 to 30 years. “It might only take an additional inch of base or asphalt,” he said that such a concept would probably meet stiff opposition from developers who are used to the current national standard of 20 years.
He said a new concept in road building is called “perpetual maintenance pavements” where roads are built to be bulletproof and every so often you replace the top layer. “America has traditionally designed roads for a 20-year life but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. When was most of our growth, the 90’s, and these roads are now nearing the end of their 20-year cycle. We’ve become a throwaway society, but you can’t throw the roads away.”