Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Let's Quit Fixing Potholes

The City of Richardson has council elections coming up in May. Community Impact Newspaper has published Q&As with five candidates. Snippets of the responses are below. I've chosen to focus on what is the classical focus of local government, what I'll call fixing potholes. Here is what Bob Dubey (Place 1), Mark Solomon (Place 2), Janet DePuy (Place 3), Franklin Byrd (Place 3), Dan Barrios (Place 3), and Ken Hutchenrider (Place 5) have to say. And afterwards, why I say let's quit fixing potholes.

Our great city is getting older, and we have issues with our infrastructure. Over the past two budget cycles we have passed a budget that has raised our funding in this area. Streets and alleys were neglected in our financial down years. Our economic growth is solid at this time, and we continue to grow. This is the time to continue to improve our streets and alleys.
Source: Bob Dubey.
This plan provides for a systematic approach to maintaining and improving, where necessary, our streets, alleyways, sidewalks, parks and city facilities. This is a big part of our budgeting process each year.
Source: Mark Solomon.
We have many older neighborhoods, streets, parks, retail, infrastructure, and maintenance in these areas must have a high priority. Ensuring funds are allocated appropriately to these areas will be a focus for me.
Source: Janet DePuy.
Aging streets and infrastructure are one of the city’s biggest issues. The city recognizes this, and for the past three years the city has increased its commitment and spending on remediation of our streets and infrastructure.
Source: Franklin Byrd.
One issue I keep hearing about from residents is our aging infrastructure, like potholes and broken water lines. Our city has made it a priority, and I know city staff is working incredibly hard to keep things working properly. I’d like to see our city continue to increase the prioritization of our infrastructure, without increasing the homeowners’ tax burden.
Source: Dan Barrios.
I believe the largest issue is ensuring continued economic development and focus on infrastructure. I have watched other cities not place a priority on this and have watched the community decline. I believe the legacy work performed by previous City Councils and city administration has provided for a strong Richardson, and I believe this work needs to continue.

Finally, I offer a quote from another person. She's not running for City Council, but it strikes me that she offers the same solution being offered by the four candidates who are running.
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
Source: Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.
All of the candidates see the problem as a city budget problem. If only we keep putting money away to repair our streets, maybe even scrub the budget so we can find more money to add to the street repair budget each year, we'll be fine. We just have to run faster and faster and we'll get there eventually.

None of the candidates highlight the underlying reason why every suburb in America faces the same problem. If there's a budget problem, it's because there is an urban planning problem. Cities designed for cars inevitably face this problem. It's a mathematical inevitability. Suburbs that take advantage of cheap land to sprawl all eventually face the problem of paying to maintain all those miles of streets. Richardson is reaping what it sowed in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. I've blogged about this before.
Strong Towns highlights a case that "perfectly illustrates the financial problem with the suburban development model." Fate, Texas, east of Rockwall, recently annexed a neighborhood that includes a cul-de-sac with 22 houses. When faced with the need to repave that street, which had been neglected by the county, the city realized that it would take seventeen years of property taxes from the 22 homeowners to pay for the cost of even the cheapest method of repair, a chip seal, that might last only 5-7 years. And that's if the neighborhood taxes were entirely dedicated to street maintenance, leaving police and fire protection and every other city service unfunded. It also would require using none of the property taxes on shared arterials that the 22 homeowners need to go anywhere once they leave their own cul-de-sac. In 5-7 years, the city would be looking at needing to do it again, while still looking at ten or more years of collecting taxes to pay off the previous reseal. The mathematics of the problem are easy to see on a cul-de-sac, but the same problem faces suburban development all across America, not just in cul-de-sacs. Simply put, the mathematics are not sustainable.

So, if you think we can't afford higher density development because "the infrastructure can't handle it," you've got the argument exactly backwards. We have a problem affording basic street repairs in suburbia, but the solution lies in more density, not less.
Source: The Wheel.
My vote will go to the candidates who demonstrate that they understand the math behind suburban growth. Get this problem under control and you won't have to scrounge up as much money to fix potholes.


Anonymous said...

So that's why the potholes on my street haven't been fixed! Makes sense now.

Mark Steger said...

Anonymous comments are not allowed. I see the same comment left on Facebook by Jeran Alexander. I assume that is who the anonymous commentsr here is.