Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 11, 2013

City nixes bond for road repairs

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners pictured miles of city streets torn up through busy summer months and said no to a bond proposal to accelerate street repairs.

The city commissioners agreed with City Manager Ben Bifoss’s recommendation to shelve consideration of a multi-million dollar bond proposal for street reconstruction until the spring of 2015. Borrowing from $10 to $20 million would have allowed the city to roll a decade or more or road projects into two or three years.

“Right now look at how much is dug up and you are talking about increasing that tenfold,” said Mayor Michael Estes. “Can we tolerate a city where the whole city is dug up for a couple of years?”

Bifoss said the city of Manistee where he lived bonded for a major road reconstruction project and it was nice once done, but for three years no one could get anywhere and things were a mess.

Commissioners hiked road and sidewalk repair spending from $100,000 annually to $1.25 million over the past few years. But even leveraging its contribution with other funding sources, city officials estimate it will take 20 years to rebuild or repave all the streets that need work. Under a bond the city would instead borrow the money up front and use some or all of the $1.25 million it now allocates for roads to make bond payments.

Low interest rates make bonding attractive right now, Bifoss said, but those rates should last until 2015 when the city can re-examine the issue. The city should also know by 2015 if Gov. Rick Snyder will make any headway in increasing fuel and automotive taxes for roads or if the county road commission can convince voters to adopt a road millage that would bring an estimated $700,000 a year to the city.

City staff can currently oversee the construction work done each year but the city would have to hire consultants and construction managers for a bond project, Bifoss said, increasing costs by up to 15 percent. The city would also have to do street work in July and August, months it currently avoids.

“It would certainly compound our traffic issues,” Bifoss said.

The last winter laid bare the city’s street problems as the repeating freeze-thaw cycles created numerous potholes and crumbled pavement. The outcry from residents prompted the city commission to look at the issue of bonding.

But Bifoss said the city will reduce some of the pothole problems by focusing on preventative maintenance. The city plans to put a thin asphalt overlay on top of about 10 miles of streets in 2014. That work will leave the city with 66 percent of its streets in fair or good condition.

“At this point I think we should stick with what we are doing,” said commissioner Jody Bergman. “We are making great strides.”