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MORE LETTERS: Roads To Ruin – An Orindan Writes His Council

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Letter to the Editor

An Orinda resident runs the numbers and writes with concerns about what he regards as a significant underestimation of costs needed to improve the city’s roadways.

Editor/Council Members:

I continue to be disturbed about what the City is telling its residents about their road system and what I consider to be the false hope that they will be able to fix the problem with the current Measure J’s $20 million followed by a “final” $25 million to be raised by some other tax four years from now. The Orinda Way article telling the residents that a 70 PCI average road condition is “appropriate” and “acceptable” preys on their lack of knowledge of what that really means and will ultimately undermine their faith in the City government.

I assume very few of you have the time to plow through pages of data detailing every aspect of running the City. However, I am sure you are aware of the 2012 Harris report on the City’s roads. This report is contained in the Roads & Infrastructure section of the City’s web site, titled “2012-2013 Pavement Management Program Update (PTAP-13) Final Report – October 2012.” In this report are a number of “scenarios” of what it would cost to bring the City’s roads to various levels of condition from do-nothing; to maintain the current average PCI (about 50); to increase the average PCI to 70 (the goal of the current City Road Plan); to raise the average PCI to about 85 (the “optimum” scenario mentioned in the recently revised Plan as costing $23 million in excess of The Plan’s $66 million projection.)

In the current Plan the City tells its residents that with the current goal of an average PCI of 70 it “anticipates” that no road will have a PCI of under 50. I believe that this “anticipation” cannot be substantiated by any facts we current have. To back up this belief I direct you to two pages in the Harris report; pages 60 and 61.

Page 60 summarizes the road conditions before and after the spending of $58 million (for roads alone, no drainage) over five years (not ten). This is equivalent to the “optimum” plan mentioned in the current Road Plan. At the end of those five years, 5 percent of the City’s roads (about 5 miles) would still be in Class IV (Poor – PCI<50) condition and 2 percent (2 miles) would be in Class V (Very Poor – PCI<25) condition. This is after spending 58 million over 5 years. With $3 million needed per year for maintenance alone, adding four more years to the construction period adds another $12 million and then there needs to be added another $14 million for drainage. $84 million if it can be done in nine years and there are still 7 miles of roads with PCI less than 50 (which could cost another $7 million to repair).

Page 61 summarizes the road condition for the scenario ending up with an average PCI of 70; the goal of the current City Plan. At the end of five years and $39 million for roads alone, 5 percent of the roads are still in Poor condition and 17 percent are in Very Poor condition. Twenty miles of roads in Poor and Very Poor condition when the average PCI is 70. The current City Plan is to fix the Very Poor roads first, not the Poor roads. This will bring the average PCI up faster than the Harris report scenario which means there will be MORE than 20 miles of roads under 50 PCI when the 70-PCI goal is reached. This is neither “appropriate” nor “acceptable”. One quarter of Orinda’s residents should not end up living on a Poor road.

How the City can “anticipate” it can do over $90+ million worth of work (the Harris report’s costs came from Street Saver which Dennis Fay reported to you is pretty accurate) for $66 million is beyond me. “Because we don’t believe the voters will vote for a $20 million bond if they knew it would cost $90-100 million to get the job done” is not a good enough answer.

Maybe Orinda Watch’s demands for a plan are slightly excessive, but under-estimating costs by 30 or 40 percent or more or being willing to accept 20-30 miles of Poor roads as a reasonable standard for Orinda is not right. Whether Measure J passes or not, the City needs to move forward to better understand what it is going to take to get every Orinda resident a good road in front of his/her home and how it is going to raise the funds to make this happen. Saying “people won’t pay for it” or “this is all we can afford” is wrong. The Measure L sales tax is bringing in $1 million per year on sales of $200 million. There is $9 billion of residential real estate in Orinda. This community can’t afford $100 million in road repairs? You are selling your community short if you believe that. The residents of Orinda who have elected you to represent their best interests don’t deserve this level of deception. The ends do not justify the means because the End is 20-30 miles of roads in Poor condition.

Signed,

Steve Cohn

Orinda