The condition of Baker City’s streets improved slightly last year, but this statistical blip doesn’t change the bumpy trend that started more than two decades ago.
That trend is inexorable, said Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director, on her final day in that job, Tuesday, March 7.
(Owen, who announced last month that she was resigning to pursue other opportunities, had worked for the city since 2001 and as public works director since 2006.)
Each year an engineering technician from the public works department inspects the city’s network of about 61 miles of paved streets.
Each street’s condition is rated as either very good, good, fair, poor or very poor.
Since 2006, the percentage of streets rated as either very good or good has dropped from 87% to 42.4% (2022).
During that same period, the percentage of streets rated as fair rose from about 26% to 48.4%.
Before 2007, no streets were rated as poor or very poor.
In 2022, the percentage of streets rated as poor was 9%.
Neither of these trends is surprising, Owen said.
Asphalt degrades over time, she said, and Baker City’s temperature extremes, ranging from over 100 degrees most summers to below zero most winters, can accelerate the deterioration.
Yet the city’s budget for street maintenance has been relatively steady.
The two main sources are city property taxes, about $670,000 per year, and state gas tax revenue, about $800,000 per year.
The property tax revenue originated with a voter-approved ballot measure more than 30 years ago, Owen said.
Although that measure expired more than 20 years ago, the city council has continued to allocate the same percentage of property tax revenue for street maintenance, she said.
The city’s share of state gas taxes rose by about $60,000 a few years ago, but Owen said that amount has largely been offset since by higher costs for asphalt. The price rose by about 26% from 2021 to 2022, when it was almost twice the cost a decade earlier, according to the city’s annual pavement management report.
The street fund also had a beginning working capital of about $1.4 million for the fiscal year that started July 1, 2022.
Owen said the city is planning a relatively modest maintenance project this summer, focusing on chip-sealing about 2.7 miles of streets, and paving a gravel section of Indiana Avenue west of Reservoir Road.
Owen said chip-sealing, which is considerably less expensive than repaving streets, has been the major maintenance tool for the city over the past decade, as it strives to prevent streets in fair condition from deteriorating further.
Chip-sealing improves streets to good condition, she said, although the benefits typically last less than a decade.
In 2019, city officials estimated that to reverse the downward trend they would need to repave about 2.4 miles of streets every year. But the current budget allows the city to repave about 2.4 blocks — not miles — every other year.
Over the past 20 years the city has added 13.22 miles of newly paved streets to its network, of which about 27% was a new street rather than repaving an existing street.
Next year will be an exception, however, to the modest pace of paving.
Owen said the city reduced its 2023 maintenance project to ensure it has enough money, combined with dollars from the state, for an estimated $2 million repaving and widening job on a 1-mile section of Cedar Street, a major north-south route in east Baker City.
That project was initially part of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s plan to improve sections of 10th Street (including its intersection with Pocahontas Road and Hughes Lane) and Cedar Street, Owen said.
But the state is allocating money earmarked for Cedar Street to the city for its own project, separate from the 10th Street work, she said.
The plan is to repave Cedar Street next summer between Campbell Street and Hughes Lane, and to widen the street to the west, to improve the current pedestrian/bicycle path, between D Street and Hughes Lane.
The path, as is the case now, will be marked by a paint stripe but will not be physically separated from the street, Owen said.
Owen said the city’s Public Works Advisory Committee has discussed over the past couple decades potential options for boosting the street maintenance budget.
The city council has also talked about the issue occasionally.
The two ideas mentioned most often are a local gas tax of perhaps a few cents per gallon, or a monthly fee added to residents’ water/sewer bills.
Owen said she understands that neither option is popular. She noted, though, that the gas tax, unlike the monthly fee, would bring in dollars from visitors and travelers on the freeway as well as from local residents.
Baker City street condition ratings, 2022 Very good
2022: 4.3 miles (7% of paved streets)
2021: 6 miles
2020: 5.11 miles
2019: 4.79 miles
Example: Best Frontage Road, East Campbell to H Street
Built 2014, chip and fog seal 2020
2022: 21.63 miles (35.4%)
2021: 18.12 miles
2020: 18.04 miles
2019: 20.14 miles
Example: Mitchell Street, Highway 7 to Fourth Street
Built 1982, chip seal 2022
2022: 29.54 miles (48.4%)
2021: 30.07 miles
2020: 32.08 miles
2019: 31.34 miles
Example: Ninth Drive, H Street to K Street
Built 1998, thin overlay, fog seal, 1998
2022: 5.52 miles (9%)
2021: 6.57 miles
2020: 5.58 miles
2019: 4.53 miles
Example: Balm Street from Madison to Campbell
Built 1980, chip seal 2008
2022: .08 miles (.13%)
2021: .17 miles
2020: .08 miles
2019: .08 miles
Example: Clifford Street from Washington south
Built 1975, asphalt patching 2017
Dead-end street that serves 12 homes.
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