The long, winding, expensive road

Street maintenance a worthy priority

By The Mercury

We’re glad Manhattan city commissioners recognize that many — actually most — of the streets in the city need attention. Now all commissioners need to do is come up with the $44 million or so they’ll need to improve the deteriorating streets in the next 10 years.

The streets are a worthy priority. The arterials and collectors — the most heavily used of the city’s streets, are one matter. They absorb most of the wear and tear and, understandably, get more attention than the “local” roads do.

The local roads are generally residential or side streets, though some residential streets perform double duty as collectors. The blessing of most local streets is that they get little traffic and hold up well. There’s the occasional delivery truck and the daily mail carrier, but otherwise the traffic involves neighborhood residents.

The curse of local streets is that when over time they deteriorate to the point that they need attention, it can be hard to get attention from City Hall. Sealing cracks barely visible from the drivers’ seat prolongs the streets’ life. And once potholes develop — as they inevitably do — they’re likely to be filled and patched. That’s good, but no one pretends it’s a real solution.

Trouble is, your street isn’t the only street with cracks and potholes that get a little larger with every heavy rain and every passing car. Not only are most streets in Manhattan local streets, but city maps show that most of them are below the condition that public works officials deem acceptable. Factors that go into the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) — the rating system for road quality — include more items than most people could imagine: “low ride quality, alligator cracking, bleeding, block cracking, bumps and sags, corrugations, depressions, edge cracking, joint reflections, land/shoulder drop off… potholes, rutting, shoving, slippage cracking, swelling and weathering and reveling.”

With all that, you’d think local streets would be impassable. They’re not. In fact, drivers can manage most streets easily enough and avoid damage to their vehicles by simply slowing down.

And although a case could be made that the backlog exists because maintenance has been deferred, fact is, rebuilding streets is expensive, and elected officials are acutely aware of taxes and mill levies. For the reason cracks are sealed and potholes are patched, look no further than the projected cost of more comprehensive maintenance: $44 million. And the work won’t just take money, it’ll take a decade.

Let’s find the money to get started, lest the streets deteriorate further and the costs rise.

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