Bumpy roads ahead for city, islanders

Islanders who are long-acquainted with the Bainbridge road network are all too familiar with navigating around the worst arterials to avoid tire damage and other pothole annoyances.

The deteriorating road situation has been exacerbated in recent years since the annual roads preservation program wasn’t funded in 2008, 2009 and 2010 because of budget constraints.

Getting a handle on the depth of the problem has been elusive, but city staff has a new software program that at the very least can objectively inform council on the overall status of island roads, individual arterials and the funding necessary to maintain or improve the system.

“The good news is that we have this information, but the bad news is what the data is telling us,” said Councilor Bob Scales. “Even after refining these numbers, we are still going to find 95 percent of roads are in the fair or poor category, and absent any improvement it will keep getting worse.”

He added: “Our strategic plan is going to be roads, roads, roads because if we fail then the roads will fail and people won’t be able to move around this island.”

Using a new software technology, the city will be able to determine how to spend the $400,000 allocated for the 2011 roads preservation budget to improve the island’s road network. Using the new system the island roads were rated in fair condition with an overall score of 61 out of 100.

Though the numbers are still in draft form, the city estimates it would need approximately $1 million to $1.3 million to maintain roads at the current condition, not including improvements or major capital projects.

The transportation software, MicroPaver, established an in-house road condition database that rates each of the islands public and paved roads. Each paved road is given a pavement condition index (PCI) score on a scale of 0-100, with the higher the PCI number indicating a better condition of road quality.

Deputy City Manager Morgan Smith said that the system will supply the city with goals such as maintaining a system-wide average PCI of 70-80 or ensuring that no road falls below a PCI of 50, which would trigger the need for major reconstruction.

Smith said the numbers are still in draft form, but the average PCI for the 142 miles of city roads was 61, which indicates a fair condition. Still, that rating requires preventative or preservation maintenance such as chip sealing or a thin asphalt overlay.

Smith’s examples of roads in the five A-E categories included two extremes: High School Road at Ferncliff Avenue has an excellent rating with a PCI score in category A of 85-100; while Grotle Road at Port Madison, qualified as a category F or 0-25 with a failed road base and in need of a complete reconstruction.

In a staff memo to the council, Smith explained that using the city’s preservation funds to tackle the “worst first” should be avoided since those roads are already below the repair threshold and would be best managed with capital project funds. But just to maintain the current “fair” rating of the island roads, the city would need far more than the $400,000 it has allocated annually for 2011 and 2012.

“This conversation has been years coming now on what we can afford and what we are going to have to do just to maintain, not even talking about a capital project, like the north end of Rockaway Beach Drive, which is a primary example,” said Councilor Bill Knobloch.

The northern stretch of Rockaway Beach presents an imminent threat to neighbors, whose homes are perched above a road that sits on a bluff that has eroded some 15 feet during the last six years.

The city has selected the entire length of New Sweden, Wyatt Way between Grow Avenue and Finch and Sunrise Drive between Valley and Lafayette for chip seal/preservation using the 2011 budget.

Kallgren Road was also selected as a fourth repair project because it requires limited structural improvements, including a pulverization of the existing pavement in two failed areas and an asphalt overlay over the reconstituted and structurally improved road base. The Kallgren work can begin as soon as council is ready to approve the contract. The total of the four projects is estimated at approximately $390,000.

Councilor Barry Peters noted the importance of spending all $400,000 on work, instead of planning or engineering, to demonstrate to the community that the money is actually being spent for real projects to make the roads better.

Mayor Kirsten Hytopolous agreed that it’s critical to gain community trust especially when the city will need funding.

“We are not going to stay at $400,000 [for road funding] ... we will figure out how to raise more money,” said Hytopolous. “We said we would try not to get a bond until we demonstrated to the community that we can complete projects successfully.”

After the elements this winter many of the city roads took an additional beating.

Interim City Manager Bauer said most of the city’s overtime budget was already spent on staffing related to weather problems, including the landslides that required $30,000 in material removal and road repairs are still needed. Kitsap County did not receive a FEMA emergency declaration, which may have provided funds to fix the mess.

Besides annual maintenance the city is far behind in the backlog for capital projects, which is rumored to be about 10 years overdue.

The three capital road projects planned for 2011 include the Winslow Way reconstruction, design work for the Rockaway Beach stabilization, and Fort Ward Hill, which has a 30 percent design but was put on hold due to lack of funding and staffing required to complete the design.

Residents of Gertie Johnson, who were recently evacuated for three weeks after a landslide denied them access to their homes and further damaged the road, have asked the city for help for years.

With this new system, citizens will be provided information as just how critical the situation is for the road they travel most often.

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