After major street repairs, then what?
City streets leaders and now Mayor Dewey Bartlett increasingly have become focused on preventative maintenance, an effort to lengthen the life as much as possible of streets that have undergone major -- and costly -- repair projects.
"We are now starting to utilize microsurfacing on the residential arterials as well as the arterial streets," said Chris Cox, the city's transportation rehabilitation manager. "The idea behind it is it is a cost-efficient way to rejuvenate and prolong the life of the pavement."
Other techniques, like crack-sealing and concrete joint rehabilitation, have been used by the city for much longer.
"Once a crack starts forming, more moisture starts to enter it," said Stephen Sherment, project manager for Bixby-based Keystone Services, which handles several sealing projects for the city. Such moisture can erode the streets from the underside out, and it also causes problems when it expands because of freezing temperatures. Sealing random cracks or worn out seals at concrete panel edges helps keep the problem moisture out, Sherment said.
Only last year did the city begin a focus on microsurfacing, in which an approximately three-eighths of an inch is added on top of a street.
The preventive maintenance effort is a part of funding from the 2008 Fix Our Streets package, Cox said.
In that voter-approved tax package, $40 million was allocated for "routine and preventive maintenance," just under 10 percent of a much larger $413 million devoted to city streets (the total $451.6 million package also included some work on bridges).
Now, talk is well underway about the next streets tax package, which could come to voters in November.
The dollar numbers aren't definite, but city staffers are asking for a slightly higher percentage of funding in any new package be allocated for routine and preventive street maintenance.
In a council committee meeting on May 23, Paul Zachary, the city's director of engineering services, proposed that 20 percent of all dollars spent on residential streets go to routine and preventive maintenance for any new streets package that might go to voters. Cox said he expects the recommendation to the council be for 10 percent to be spent on routine and preventive repairs for non-residential streets.
The recent microsurfacing and crack sealing has been done by contractors, Cox said.
"I'd love to do all this stuff in-house, but when you don't have the staff in the street maintenance ... they just don't have the staff to do it," Cox said.
That could change under a Bartlett tax proposal. On May 21, in a formal presentation to the city council, he presented a three-part tax plan to extend a 0.167 percent sales tax and redirect it away from city infrastructure projects.
Instead, Bartlett wants the money -- an estimated $10-14 million yearly -- to fund police and fire academies to boost staffing, among other public safety projects. The money would also be used to hire new street maintenance employees and purchase street equipment.
"The reason the streets are being prematurely rebuilt is because the city has not done a good job of adequately funding the maintenance of our street system," Bartlett said in an interview. "This particular portion of that public safety refocus would provide for three dedicated crews that would spend 100 percent of their time to maintain our streets by sealing cracks, permanently filling potholes and providing thin overlays to make our streets last much longer."
Bartlett said the city should realize some cost efficiencies if his plan goes through.
"If we do it in house, then we can do it for about 50 percent less cost. Therefore, we'll be able to cover much larger areas of our city to maintain our street system," he said.
Already, hundreds of lane miles have been microsurfaced. Areas that have had the microsurfacing technique include South Harvard Avenue between East 31st Street and East 41st Street; E. 61st Street, between South Sheridan Road and South Memorial Drive; and South Sheridan Road, between E. 71st Street to E. 81st Street. The projects have been completed in three or so days, according to city news statements, with crews sometimes working overnight.
The technique has caught the attention of city councilors.
"People are thrilled with just the microsurfacing that's been done," Lakin said at the council meeting. "It's as if they get brand new streets, when really you haven't provided brand new streets at all."
The city had tried microsurfacing in the 1980s, Cox said.
"We weren't satisfied with its performance, so we discontinued using it," Cox said.
In the last decade, the technique has caught on elsewhere. Oklahoma City began an annual microsurfacing program in 2002, according to The Oklahoman newspaper. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has used microsurfacing for close to 10 years, a department spokesman said, describing a lack of funding as the main reason it wasn't used previously.
Cox said the city uses ODOT specifications for microsurfacing, which actually caused some friction with one contractor who used its own mix, Cox said. Now, Kansas City-based Vance Brothers has signed on to do city microsurfacing jobs, he said. Costs for microsurfacing so far have ranged from $2.70-$2.94 per square yard, Cox said.
Crack sealing jobs have also been handled by Pavement Conservation Specialists, Inc., Cox said.
Does it work?
Sherment said portions of South Memorial Drive are maintained by the state, which hasn't had the same focus on putting dollars into making sure seals are maintained where concrete street panels come together.
"All you have to do is drive down Memorial to see how many potholes are formed at the joints," Sherment said.
In other states, complex cost-benefit analysis studies have been done on microsurfacing in recent years, but ODOT and Cox spoke about the benefits in extending the life of a street.
"I would say all thing being equal, you're probably adding five years to it, five plus years," Cox said.
Speaking generally about preventive maintenance, Cox said it ensures that major repairs last as long as possible.
"As we've been getting the funding, we're going to continue to do more of it," he said.
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