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Hate potholes? Helps on the way

A quarter of all city streets will see some level of repair before summer's end
by: Jim Clark City of Gresham workers tear up old asphalt to make way for new paving on Southwest Birdsdale Avenue on Tuesday, July 19.

In an unprecedented nod to street maintenance needs, Gresham crews are paving a quarter of all city streets this summer. That's three times more road repair work than is performed in a typical summer roadwork season.

The $3 million paving push is part of what city councilors are calling The Road Ahead, a top council priority identified in this year's council work plan.

A driving factor is community concern about the condition of neighborhood streets, said Gresham City Councilor Paul Warr-King.

'There are potholes all over, in front of City Hall,' he said. 'Just a lot of citizen complaints about side streets, particularly in Rockwood and West Gresham.'

Mayor Shane Bemis - who earlier this month donned a hard hat and grabbed a shovel to help spread new asphalt with a city crew repairing part of a road at Northeast 165th Drive and Russell Street - said it's a livability issue.

'We think residents are going to like the results, while gaining a better understanding of the long-term challenges facing our road system,' Bemis said.

Deferred road maintenance is nothing new for Gresham, or most cities for that matter. Back in 2002-2003, Gresham's cost of deferred road maintenance was estimated to be $10.5 million.

Five years ago, that number had grown to $18.9 million by 2006. But that same year, Gresham took possession of major arterials previously controlled by Multnomah County, bringing the road maintenance backlog to $23.2 million.

By 2009, the backlog had ballooned to $68.7 million and was estimated to hit $131 million in 2013.

Cities across Oregon find themselves struggling with how to pay for road maintenance due to the state's stagnant gas tax, deepening budget cuts and the continuing economic downturn.

In fact, two years ago, Troutdale considered but ultimately put the brakes on a proposal for a 2-cents-a-gallon fuel tax to fund road improvements.

In the past few years, Gresham has used federal and local grants to fund improvements to major arterials, including Kane, Hogan and Powell, said Steve Fancher, the city's director of environmental services.

Meanwhile, residential streets suffered. So this year, using money from the city's transportation fund that would have been carried over to the next fiscal year, coupled with increases in two state funding sources - gas taxes and vehicle registration fees - Gresham city councilors decided to focus those dollars on side street improvements, Fancher said.

The goal: To keep as many city streets in working condition as possible.

'It's one step,' Fancher said. 'Just to hold steady we need to be putting about four times that much into roads. We need to find another revenue source. That's Phase II of the Road Ahead.'

Beginning in February, the city began repairs on approximately 500 streets, but the bulk of the work will be performed this summer. Streets are treated with pavement preservation techniques, such as crack and slurry seals; and full-on repairs including chip seals, grindings, patches and overlays.

That's about 25 percent of the streets in Gresham, said Laura Shepard, Gresham spokeswoman.

Carmen Turner, whose house sits near Southwest Fourth Street and Birdsdale Drive in Gresham's Hollybrook neighborhood, was pleased to see road crews grinding out a section of Birdsdale and replacing it on Tuesday, July 19.

'But it almost seems the whole street needs repaving, not just a patch,' she said. 'But it's good they're doing something.'

Others question why streets that look perfectly good are getting attention while those with cracks or other visible problems are not, Fancher said.

'It's kind of a conundrum that we have,' Fancher said. It's cheaper to maintain streets in relatively good condition than to replace a road that needs a gut job. Sort of like how regular oil changes are cheaper than paying for a new engine.

'But to someone who lives along that street it doesn't make any sense,' Fancher said.

Instead, engineers make the call. Every year, about a third of the city's streets are rated in terms of their condition. Engineers then decide what roads to repair and how by examining signs of road stress, such as cracking, to determine what is happening beneath the road's surface. Computer software also can take into consideration how many vehicles travel on the street and how often, plus prior maintenance to determine the most cost-effective repairs.

Pothole hotline

Although the city of Gresham can't afford to rebuild local streets in truly poor condition, road crews are trying to make them a bit more drivable by filling those transmission-jarring potholes.

To report a pothole in need of repair, call 503-618-2626 with the nearest cross street and/or address. The city vows to fix them within 72 hours. So far this year, 512 potholes have been repaired.

Paving projects

Gresham transportation crews aren't just paving streets this summer. Projects include a mix of fixes for not only those who drive, but also residents who walk and bike. They include the following:

• Filling in missing sidewalk links in neighborhoods and on main roads.

• New sidewalk on East Powell Boulevard/Southeast Powell Valley Road from Northeast Kane Drive to Gordon Russell Middle School.

• New paved path on Southeast First Street between Third Street near Burnside Street and Kane Drive.

• Southeast 190th Avenue and Division Street intersection work, new handicap ramps and sidewalk to Gresham-Fairview Trail.

• Flashing yellow lights allowing left turns in historic downtown at the Hood Avenue/Powell Boulevard and Cleveland Avenue/Powell Boulevard intersections.

• Replacing old signals at the intersections of Northeast 185th Avenue and Glisan Street and Southeast 182nd Avenue and Division, plus handicap improvements.

• New, improved Gresham-Fairview Trail signal crossings, with LED lights to be more visible during the day, at trail crossings over Glisan, Stark and Burnside.

• New flashing crosswalks at Southeast 179th Avenue and Stark Street, and Southeast 181st Avenue and Main Street in Rockwood.