North Texas Daily

Lack of street cred

Lack of street cred

Lack of street cred
June 13
12:50 2014

Trent Johnson / Editor-in-chief and Obed Manuel / Contributing Writer

Streets wear down over time. But what is there to do when a population boom rolls right over them? Or when a four-day ice storm leaves them ravaged?

That’s exactly the scenario the city of Denton finds itself in.

Keith Gabbard, city street superintendent, said Denton didn’t really take care of the quality of roads until a mass expansion in population and size accompanied the year of 2000.

“I think it’s a growing priority for the city and it’s one of the most complained about items for the citizens,” Gabbard said. “Are we there yet? No, but we’re working on ways to get us to that point.”

The street department currently operates on an annual budget of about $8 million, including the $4 million from a 2012 bond, which is still short of the nationally recommended $10 million minimum, Gabbard said.

“We’re behind because we simply haven’t done anything to fund the department correctly,” Gabbard said. “It’s hard to take money away from other departments.”

He also added that a government bond of $20.4 million, which was awarded in 2012, helps cover the streets. The bond was approved by Denton voters and specifically provides funds for projects involving roads.

According to the bond proposition of 2012, Denton’s Overall Condition Index (OCI), a system used to evaluate the condition and quality of streets, was an average of 60. The rating included “many lower-rated streets.”

[colored_box color=grey] 2012 BOND SALE CAUSES AND RESULTS

After years of under spending and blatantly ignoring the city streets, in 2012 the city of Denton finally decided to get proactive after receiving more confirmation that the quality was subpar.

Two years after conducting a study using the Overall Condition Index (OCI), the council members of Denton decided to push a bond sale intended to fund spending over five years with a total of $20 million.

The study that provoked the action found that of the 680-mile street network, the city earned an average of 60. Roads with a score of 40 or less are considered poor and recommended to be repaired or replaced, according to the proposal.

Denton’s proposed plan won in a landslide, as about 78 percent, or 25,254 people, voted yes to the bond sales.

With the additional $4 million a year, Denton is edging closer and closer to the recommended spending on roads $10 million a year threshold. This year’s budget including the bond funds is about $8 million, Denton super intendant of streets Keith Gabbard said. The bond acts as a supplement and has helped the city reach that goal.

“The [bond] funding is intended to complement what we have in street maintenance,” finance director Bryan Langley said during the council’s annual planning session in 2012. “It does not replace what we have [in the budget].”

The initial plan listed Bell Avenue, McKinney Street, Schmitz Street, Windsor Drive, University Drive and Cherokee Street as targets for reconstruction.

Another bond election is planned this year and street construction is again asking for about $21 million.

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Much of the damage, corrosion and hazardous blemishes can be directly attributed to time. While asphalt roads being built now are often 11 to 12 inches thick, most Denton roads were built in the 70s and 80s. Designs from that era only called for roads to be two inches thick, Gabbard said.

“We maintain the roads year round,” Gabbard said. “Sometimes we can’t fix the problems right away, but we always get to the bad issues.”

That’s the main problem Gabbard and his team solve, as they are in charge of repairing the older roads and maintaining the newer ones. As with numerous other infrastructure objects—newer is better.

“The newer roads in South Denton are an eight [out of 10] and older roads are probably around a four,” Gabbard said. “It’s cheaper to maintain newer roads than old one’s, that’s just a fact, but most of our roads aren’t new and don’t meet the standard.”

Denton has been trying to put an emphasis on the quality of roads since 2000, and is currently on pace to reach the $10 million threshold sometime in the next 10 years. Regardless, citizens have grown weary over the dangerous potholes and cracks, often leaving many complaints via email, hand-written letters or even calls.

“With a population over 120,000, we get complaints almost everyday.” Gabbard said.

Another bond committee is being put together for this year’s bond election and street repairs are once again on the agenda, asking for about $21 million.

City councilman Kevin Roden also deals with complaints about the roads and realizes that some of the streets demand immediate attention from officials.

“In Denton, we have a significant problem with roads in general. Our road funding is not where it needs to be,” Roden said. “On campus there as bad as anywhere else, I live over by TWU and it’s bad over there as well.”

Roden’s thoughts mirror those of Gabbard, including upping the funding and figuring that out while not hurting other parts of the city.

“We’re getting more and more aggressive on funding,” Roden said. “…It’s just difficult because the more money you invest in streets, I mean you’re going to have to take it away from some other part of the city. That’s just in any budgeting process.”

Roden has proposed several plans in the last year including charging remediation fees for gas drillers, due to heavy trucks putting tremendous pressure on the streets, charging road impact fees for businesses increasing traffic and even a street user fee.

“The idea being that you enjoy the use of these streets, using it for your car or something else and that puts wear and tear on the roads and we all need to put into that,” Roden said.

DENTON RESIDENTS SPEAK UP

BCIS junior Pavia Cooper said she noticed the tarnished state of Denton’s roads when she moved to the city two years ago.

“When I drive, it messes my wheel alignment up. I can’t drive the speed limit. I have to drive kind of slow,” Cooper said. “The bumps. There are a lot of potholes.

Cooper said back in January, her car took some damage that she attributes to a dip in the road.

She was making a left turn on Eagle Drive. The street she turned into dipped to the point that the grill of her car hit the road and cracked in half.

Cooper said she had a friend who fixed the grill at no charge, but it opened her eyes to the state of Denton’s roads.

“I was very upset and I was thinking, ‘Maybe someone needs to do something about the Denton roads and it needs to be fixed immediately,’” Cooper said.

For Denton’s cycling community, the state of Denton’s streets presents a different kind of problem.

Jeffrey Schoolcraft, a Denton resident, said that having to be aware of the shoddy road conditions can distract bikers from the traffic around them.

“You have to not only be aware of traffic, but now you have to look down,” Schoolcraft said.

Schoolcraft said that it seems to him that the city council should allocate more funds for improving the state of the roads.

“Out of all the things in Denton to put money to, the roads should be on the top of their list because they are pretty bad,” Schoolcraft said.

[colored_box color=”grey”] DENTON CYCLISTS WEIGH IN

Every Tuesday night, a group of cycling enthusiasts meet on the east side of the Language Building on UNT’s campus.

Jeffrey Schoolcraft, a Denton resident, said that sometimes up to 100 cyclists meet up for the weekly Tuesday Bike Night.

On their group outings, the cyclists often have to deal with potholes and cracks.

The faltering road conditions, Schoolcraft said, add a load of pressure for the cyclists.

“In Denton, you have to be aware of what you’re riding on and where you’re going. It takes up that much more of your focus,” Schoolcraft said. 

Schoolcraft said that the availability of a singular bike lane on Hickory Street poses a problem for the cyclists who choose to use it because other cyclists may be riding the opposite direction.

This means some cyclists have to use the main streets, some of which are adorned with cracks and potholes that can slow them down and place them in danger of the vehicles behind them, Schoolcraft said.

“They did paint a bike lane, but that doesn’t fix the problem of the actual roads falling apart,” Schoolcraft said.

UNT philosophy senior Carl Jacob said he has been riding around Denton for three years.

“I would say the quality of roads is a little bit worse than some other parts of Texas that I’ve been in,” Jacob said.

Jacob said that the roads in Denton that have been worn down could be a distraction for cyclists.

“It just kind of slows you down. It’s one more thing to think about instead of the traffic around you,” Jacob said.

Schoolcraft said he sees the poor quality of the roads as something that hinders participation in the cycling group.

“It keeps people from riding their bike. We have a lot of people that don’t want to come out to this ride because they’re scared of riding on the road,” Schoolcraft said.

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Featured Image: A semi-truck carries a construction tractor across the intersection of Hickory Street and Bernard Street. City officials said Denton’s older roads were not designed to bear the weight of the large trucks that drive on them. Photo by Obed Manuel.

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