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The City Journals

Public Works Director Pitches Road Maintenance Fund

Mar 10, 2016 11:54AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Rachel Molenda | [email protected]

West Valley - With the expiration dates of many of West Valley City’s roads approaching, Public Works director Russ Willardson is making a pitch to council members for a dedicated maintenance fund.

Data from a 2014 survey conducted with assistance from Utah State University shows West Valley City has a majority—about 33 percent—of roads that rank poorly in their remaining service lives.

“We’re kind of in a situation where we need to spend some money fixing these,” Willardson said.

He added that the city’s current funding goal for street maintenance—about $2 million annually—would put 46 percent of its roads in severe disrepair by 2024.

Willardson has a goal of having West Valley City’s roads inspected every two years so maintenance can be kept up. A gas tax, which began last month, will bring in about $700,000 in new revenue to the city. But those funds are restrictive, Willardson said.

“Right now the majority of our funding does come from gas tax money, which is restricted and can only be spent on new construction or maintenance of roads. So if the council decided to set aside money or a dedicated amount, I would be thrilled,” Willardson said.

Utah’s Local Technical Assistance Program recommended West Valley City spend $4.9 million each year on road maintenance.

Mayor Ron Bigelow said he didn’t have “any major concerns” after hearing Willardson’s presentation in January. While West Valley City isn’t staying on top of its maintenance of streets and buildings, neither are other cities, Bigelow said.

“It’s not like this is something new or, oh, something we just discovered. It’s been that way for always. The state’s the same way,” Bigelow said.

When asked how the city might take care of a major road problem without having a maintenance fund to pull from, Bigelow said, “We’ll take care of it.”

Bigelow, who was not a supporter of Proposition 1, an initiative to fund roads and the Utah Transit Authority, used his position to outline his thoughts on road quality in West Valley City.

“Can you drive to your house? Can you drive to work? Can you drive to the store? So what’s the problem with the roads? They say, ‘Oh they’re getting worse.’ And I said, ‘Yes, they are, but it’s not as bad as it appears,” Bigelow said.

Proposition 1 did not pass in Salt Lake County, according to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune. Salt Lake County voters turned down the initiative by more than 4,000 votes. Ten of the 17 counties on whose ballots Proposition 1 appeared approved the additional tax—one cent for every four dollars spent—according to the Tribune.

The sales tax increase, which went through for those counties that approved the measure, would have brought in about $2.1 million to West Valley City if voters in the county had passed it.

Willardson said road repairs aren’t always obvious from the surface, and the city will often repair it with a slurry seal.

“For a little while it makes it look all nice and black again. But in reality, the problems are underneath. And where we don’t have enough funds to address the total reconstruction that needs to be done, we kind of put a Band-Aid on top of it and try to get by for a few more years,” Willardson said.

Willardson added that the city is behind on its road reconstruction, despite planned projects like a $1.7 million road overlay project this summer.

Bigelow said the public doesn’t typically complain about the city’s roads.

“It’s not like we’re not aware of the problem. What we say is we’ll do the best we can with the funds the citizens have given us,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow said the council will establish its goals for the coming year during its annual retreat, which was scheduled for Feb. 19. Bigelow went on to say deciding how to spend the city’s money is “a great challenge” influenced by city officials’ personal philosophies and pressure from the public.

“You can’t just do the most important thing. You’ve got to be wise and spread it out. In other words, we can’t just fix roads. We’ve also got sidewalks, curb and gutter,” Bigelow said.