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Contractor starts summer-long repairs on city's shabby streets 

Sea of holes

If you see a pothole or crack in the street encircled by a white dotted line, it means it's been tagged for repair under the city's $2 million campaign against potholes. If there's no dotted line, you might want to report it.

Contracted crews started fixing some of the city's thousands of potholes May 19 — nearly two months after Mayor Steve Bach proposed using money from city reserves to address them as an emergency.

"And this was an accelerated process," says streets division manager Corey Farkas. "We really got them rolling as soon as we possibly could."

The city had hoped to get the work done by August using several contractors, but probably won't now after receiving only one bid — from TRAX Construction, Inc., of Colorado Springs.

While Farkas calls the program "a step in the right direction," he warns not to expect miracles from what he calls "a drop in the bucket of what we need here."

Just one bid

Farkas says a hard winter — snow-removal crews worked 11 out of 13 days during one stretch of bad weather — left the streets pocked with holes, heaves and cracks. Freeze-thaw cycles made matters worse as water seeped into crevices and caused further damage.

After citizens complained about jaw-rattling road surfaces, Bach and then-Chief of Staff Laura Neumann went to the streets division in late February or early March, Farkas says, with the message: "We're getting a lot of calls." Finance officials suggested $2 million was all the city could spare from its reserve fund, he says.

On March 25, the city announced Bach would seek the emergency appropriation from City Council. Some councilors pushed back, asking why the mayor didn't budget for the repairs and raising other questions. Bach said the budget didn't have funding for potholes.

Rather than handling the request as an emergency, requiring only one approval, Council required approvals on first and second readings, April 8 and April 22.

On April 23, the city sought bids, imposing an April 30 deadline. Only TRAX submitted a bid, and the city negotiated a contract price of $1.5 million. The company's original bid has not been released.

City spokeswoman Julie Smith says via email the city will use the other $500,000 for more pothole repairs or "for other roadway repairs."

Getting just one bid will slow down the work, Farkas says, noting, "We hoped to have four [contractors] going at the same time, in every quadrant." He says he thinks companies didn't bid because they already had work lined up for the summer. The Independent contacted seven construction companies who usually bid on city paving work; none responded.

'Worst of the worst'

By the time TRAX began work last week, city crews already had filled roughly 15,000 potholes across the area, Smith says. Problem is, Farkas says, many were filled in the dead of winter using what's called cold mix — "a Band-Aid at best" that lasts months or just weeks.

The TRAX repairs are considered permanent, and involve digging out old asphalt and filling holes with hot mix, a more durable repair expected to last two to 10 years, depending on traffic, weather and other variables, Smith says.

Wanting an up-close look, I hopped into a late-model city Ford Explorer with Farkas one afternoon last week for a cruise around the northeast sector, where cracks and potholes blemish nearly every street. Some ruts span a block or more, such as on North Carefree Circle.

As we drove, Farkas explained how the city decided which holes to fill: "We sorted the list and tried to get the worst of the worst," he said. "We then overlaid that on our overlay and chip-seal map. We didn't want to put this money on a street where we were going to do overlay or chip seal." Those jobs are slated for June and July. (Chip seal involves applying gravel sealed with a liquid tar-like coating.)

So if a major pothole doesn't get filled, it might be located on a street scheduled for major repairs, he notes.

"We're trying to get this $2 million spent as efficiently as possible," Farkas says, though he admits the city's 6,000 to 7,000 lane miles of rundown streets could easily gobble up $10 million to $15 million.

Farkas says the city is changing the way it approaches street repairs by rotating work through four quadrants, rather than doing repair work annually in every part of the city, in hopes of making headway. "Our problems are from decades of deferred maintenance," he says.

Asked about that, Bach says through a spokesperson the city should resurface 10 percent of its roads annually, rather than just 2 percent. He also says most of the city's road funding this year, $13.5 million, comes from the Regional Transportation Authority, via a regional tax. Only $580,000 is coming from the general fund, Farkas says.

Bach has proposed issuing debt to pay for infrastructure city-wide, including flood control, which so far hasn't gotten backing from City Council.

zubeck@csindy.com

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