City of Lakewood pitches street work
CHRISTIAN HILL; Staff writer
The City of Lakewood has launched an effort to educate residents on the deteriorating condition of their streets as it considers whether to ask voters for money dedicated to street maintenance.
Bill Larkin, chairman of the Citizens’ Transportation Advisory Committee, said the condition of Lakewood’s 181 miles of roadway is “borderline.” The longer maintenance is delayed, he said, the more streets will cost to repair in Pierce County’s second-largest city.
“It won’t be long until we’re going to be in trouble,” he said.
The city has money in its budget this year to fix potholes and do other repairs in places where crews are already widening streets or adding streetlights, sidewalks and bike lanes. But it hasn’t had funding for several years to regularly maintain streets, due to the drop in tax revenue brought on by the economic collapse.
Committee members and city staff have begun showing a PowerPoint presentation on the condition of Lakewood streets, how the city pays for maintenance and how additional revenue is needed. They presented it earlier this month at the mayor’s coffee hour and will go out to community groups and neighborhood associations in the coming weeks.
The committee has recommended Lakewood establish a transportation benefit district. State law allows various methods to raise that money. The most common approach adopted by other cities and discussed by the Lakewood committee is a fee added to the annual renewal fee for vehicles registered in the district. A district can impose a fee of up to $20 without voter approval, and up to $100 with it.
“In order to get the public to buy into that, we have to really show what the need is and how the need will be satisfied with these additional funds,” Larkin said.
He said the committee could drop the idea if public sentiment runs against it.
Separately, during budget negotiations late last year, the council directed City Manager Andrew Neiditz to present a report on transportation revenues and needs and a recommendation on next steps. Neiditz said he will make that report later this month and his recommendation will include a transportation benefit district as an option.
Mayor Doug Richardson stressed the council hasn’t discussed a transportation district in any depth. He said the consensus among council members appears to be to bring the issue to the ballot if they move forward at all.
“Right now, given the state of the economy and everything, the council would like people to weigh in on it, even at the lower dollar amount,” he said.
At least one other local city has toyed with that approach, and decided against it. In neighboring University Place, the City Council last year considered assessing the $20 fee to spend on roads but quickly dropped the idea. UP established a transportation benefit district two years ago, but has yet to fund it.
Lakewood this year has budgeted about $55,000 to fix potholes and $500,000 to pave streets.
Desiree Winkler, the city’s transportation division manager, estimated it would cost $4 million to $5 million a year to keep the condition of streets at current levels.
A $20 vehicle registration fee is estimated to bring in about $900,000 a year in revenue, Winkler said.
Transportation engineers rate the condition of pavement on a scale of 100 (freshly laid) to 0 (severe cracking and requiring total replacement). Lakewood’s average pavement score was 74 in 2009, down from 85 about a decade earlier.
Drivers are unlikely to feel or see the difference between the two scores, but they carry a financial impact. For instance, the estimated cost to repave 108th Street from Main Street to Bridgeport Way doubled over the last three years as its score dropped from 58 to 29, according to the city’s presentation.
Two primary revenues to pay for street maintenance are gas taxes and real estate excise taxes, which have both dropped in recent years. Volatile fuel prices are prompting people to limit their driving, and the collapse in the housing market means fewer homes are sold.
Winkler said the city also has been a “victim of its own success” because it had secured $31 million in transportation grants since its incorporation in 1996. She said residents may have had the false impression the work was paid for from city coffers. But grant dollars are becoming scarcer as federal and state governments grapple with their own budget shortfalls.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390