Sunday, June 03, 2001

Streets starting to shape up

City's repair program adds miles

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's street repair program, plagued by financial mismanagement and a staggering backlog during the 1990s, is slowly but surely catching up to 2001, city officials said Friday.

        The transportation and engineering department is still catching up with work scheduled to be done last year, while starting an extensive $14.8 million project to fix nearly 200 streets in 2001 — a total of 128 lane miles.

        “It's a healthy sign that we're going to repair well over 100 miles of streets this year when, just a few years ago, the city was only doing 40-some,” Mayor Charlie Luken said.

        Mr. Luken took office in December 1999, vowing to speed up the repaving of Cincinnati streets. What Mr. Luken and the new City Council found then was a street repair operation in disarray, with millions spent but little to account for it.

        City engineers had reported that 818 lane miles of city streets were repaired between 1991 and 1997, at a cost of about $65 million. But an internal audit showed that only 460 lane miles had been repaired, at a cost of about $50 million.

        The city's Office of Municipal Investigations found that, while there was no attempt to defraud, employees had been diverting street repair funds to other uses.

        The bottom line: In 1999, 60 percent of Cincinnati's streets were not in good condition.

        City Transportation Director John Deatrick was brought in to take over the street rehabilitation program, to lead the catch-up effort and put internal controls in place to prevent road repair money from being spent on anything else.

        “You could say we are continually trying to push a rock up a hill,” Mr. Deatrick said, “but we're slowly catching up.”

        “Slowly” is the operative word. The city has a team of independent consultants surveying every street in the city — taking digital photographs of every segment of every street — and categorizing them as “poor,” “fair,” “good,” or “excellent.”

        The transportation and engineering department will then decide which streets to repair in coming years, said Dick Cline, a senior engineer.

        Officials expect this year's $14.8 million street rehab program to be followed by a $15.2 million program in 2002.

        By the end of 2006, the city's street repair projects are expected to total $96 million. Even then, Mr. Deatrick said, the number of streets classified as “good” or “excellent” will increase by only 1 percent.

        “One percent doesn't sound like much but, given where we started, it's pretty good,” Mr. Cline said. “We're trying to pull ourselves up bit by bit.”

        And they'll be racing against time, wear and tear.

        “The bad news is that once you have fixed a street, it starts to deteriorate again,” Mr. Deatrick said. “It never ends.”


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