Hole-y land 

Budget woes ensure that our streets will remain pocked

A couple of weeks ago, Ricky Morris says, his wife was driving his "baby," a Chevy Silverado, down Centennial Boulevard in the snow when it came to an abrupt stop.

She wasn't sure what was going on at first, he says. But as it turns out, the wheel was stuck in a pothole, and hitting it had forced the wheel to a 15-degree angle. It cost $45 to have it realigned.

Morgan McGuire, meanwhile, remembers that she was "just driving down the road and hit a pothole." She didn't think it was too big a deal until she noticed her tire was bulging. The impact had caused a bubble to form, and the tire had to be replaced.

On a Thursday afternoon the two were sitting — where else? — in an auto repair shop.

They're hardly the only ones affected by our growing harvest of potholes. On social media, the Independent asked about people's worst pothole experiences and received dozens of responses, commenters decrying craters across the city.

In 2014, 226 people sued the city for damage caused by potholes, but only eight claims were paid — they got an average of $161.13. The city is immune from suits regarding a dangerous road unless it received notice of the condition ahead of time and "failed to mitigate the condition within a reasonable time with available resources."

Morris has a solution. He says he thinks the city should allow recreational pot shops and use the tax money to fix the roads — or just use the revenue they already have. "Start using my tax money to fix this stuff," he says.

Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. Colorado Springs' general fund budget is $259 million. Corey Farkas, streets division manager, says he'd need "hundreds of millions" of dollars to address the city's backlog of overlay (repaving) jobs. And only by repaving our worn-out streets could the city keep potholes from cropping up every year.

Potholes form when water manages to seep under asphalt.

When the water freezes, it expands, generating cracks. Cars passing overhead force more water into the cracks, causing the gravel and soil underneath it to erode, and then boom ... the asphalt collapses under the weight of traffic.

The best way to prevent this from happening is by keeping up with road maintenance, often by repaving a road and fixing connecting curbs and gutters so that the road is sealed off from moisture. Over decades, the Springs has built up a backlog of these projects.

City Councilor Jan Martin, who has served for eight years, says the recession didn't help the situation. Budgets were tight, and all city services were cut as a result. The funding is mostly back to normal these days, but, she says, the truth is that taxes are so low in the Springs that "we don't have a strong enough revenue base to maintain the streets."

Farkas says the city averages 25,000 to 28,000 pothole fixes a year, but last year the streets division filled 32,459. He thinks this year could be just as bad, especially because we've been getting wet snows and huge temperature changes — the combination most likely to produce the nuisances. In cold weather, the city usually just packs the potholes with a special mixture and hopes it holds. On warmer days, it can better patch the pothole with a hot mixture. Of course, that doesn't prevent the potholes from coming back — as long as water can get under the road, they will return.

"Our infrastructure is so aged that we're going to have it every single year," Farkas says.

On the bright side, Farkas says, the city is stepping up street repairs this year.

In 2014, the city spent about $4.5 million on overlay, which covered 47 lane-miles of roads in particularly bad condition. This year, it will spend about $7.5 million. Overlay with good maintenance will generally keep a road sound for eight to 10 years.

The city is also nearly doubling its chip seal program, which repairs and seals less-damaged roads. With maintenance, chip seal lasts three to six years. Last year, the city had a budget of about $800,000 for chip seal, which covered 67 lane miles. This year, the budget is about $1.5 million.

The city also has a $500,000 contracted program to seal cracks in roads to prevent them from becoming potholes. That could cover 300 to 350 lane miles, and the city is also spending another $100,000 in-house.

The extra money has come from funds that usually go to repair sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and an additional $2 million from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Farkas says he's held public meetings and assembled two five-year plans for street repairs. One would overlay about 180 to 230 lane miles with PPRTA money only; the other includes funding from Mayor Steve Bach's proposed $145 million bond issue and would overlay 600 lane miles. (As of deadline, it looked unlikely that the bond issue would make the April ballot, let alone pass.)

To put that in perspective, Farkas says, "We have over 5,600 lane miles of roadway within our city, we cover over 194 square miles, and almost 61 percent of our roadway networks needs an overlay."

In the meantime, you can report new potholes at 385-5934 or via the GoCoSprings app on a smartphone.

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