Hugh Smith tapped his foot on a lumpy section of asphalt on 34th Avenue.
He scanned the road, assessing repairs from earlier years, before Meridian’s infrastructure became his responsibility.
“I’m seeing three different layers of asphalt,” Smith said. “To me, this looks like a long skin patch. Maybe there were issues in the middle of the street and over time, to keep the street in service, there have been other repairs made.”
34th Avenue is one of hundreds of city streets in need of improvement or an overhaul; and for Smith, Meridian’s public works director, it helps explain why the administration is pushing for up to $12 million in paving and infrastructure bonds.
Ja’Brandon Cole, who moved to the quiet neighborhood about a year ago, said the street's condition isn’t terrible, but could use some work.
“It’s drivable, but it needs a little bit more paving to smooth out the rough spots,” he said.
The public works department would be able to handle a project of this size without the help of a contractor, as opposed to a wider street such as North Hills Street, Smith said.
“I would probably run a leveling course of asphalt on it so these imperfections would not bleed through and then overlay it,” he said.
A busier thoroughfare in need of attention is 45th Street, which runs roughly between Poplar Springs Drive and North Hills Shopping Center.
On one stretch of it, Smith pointed out what are called “alligator cracks,” named after the pattern on the reptile.
“What that is an indication of is a failed sub-surface,” he said. “The asphalt is really broken down. The cracks are the result of the oxidation process as asphalt ages. Once you get to a certain level in that decline, it’s beyond crack sealing and you have to go to the actual overlay.”
At this point, he said, it's almost cost-prohibitive to keep patching potholes.
“Patching is a way to keep a road in use without damaging a vehicle,” he said. “It is in no way meant to be a permanent fix.”
On another part of 45th Street closer to 35th Avenue, Smith showed where crews filled in cracks, adding what he estimated was seven to 10 more years to the life of the street.
“We were able to come in and do crack sealing to add some more life to this one without having to go to the point of milling and overlay,” he said.
City leaders would like to have an assessment done on all the streets, rating their conditions.
“It will let us know which ones need to be maintained, which ones need to be stripped and pulled up,” said Council President Kim Houston of Ward 4. “It will let us know everything about our streets and it takes the politics out of it.”
Houston often receives complaints about rough roads and popped tires, she said.
“I know for the residents in Ward 4, this is important because there are streets there that have not been addressed in 30, 40 years or longer,” she said. “We need to get this done because if we continue to delay it, our streets are going to get worse and worse and worse. It’s almost like kicking a can.”
Smith said the bonds would not cover everything he'd like to see done, but they would help pay for equipment, paving, improvements to traffic lights and school crossings and the study of some intersections.
Internet sales tax proceeds could be used to pay debt service on the bonds, he said.
“Paving, we desperately need, how much we can afford is the big question,” Ward 1 Councilman George Thomas said. “We will have to have some bond issue. I'm not sure how much yet.”
As of Thursday, Thomas said he was not comfortable with the proposed bond amount.
“I think the $12 million bond is the complete wrong way to do this,” Ward 5 Councilman Weston Lindemann said. “It's only going to set us back more in the future ... Borrowing today is a short-term solution.”
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Lindemann said the city has $4 million in the current budget that won't be spent before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and would have an additional $4 million in the next fiscal year that could go toward the street improvements.
He would rather see Internet sales tax revenue used for the paving itself, rather than bond debt payments, he said.
Smith has said Lindemann’s proposal still incurs delayed maintenance.
At a work session Thursday, the city council was considering whether to issue $12 million in bonds at once or in two or more issues, Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Kelly said.
The council meets Thursday, July 30 to vote on whether or not to approve paving and infrastructure bonds, Kelly said.
According to Smith, paving discussions began in December and he had hoped to have a finalized plan by this spring.
A $7.5 million bond issued in 2014 has been fully spent and there is not a line item for paving in the city's annual budget, according to the public works department.
Money is set aside for road maintenance, such as pothole patching, Smith said.
If bonds are issued by October, Smith said he would aim to start addressing some neighborhood streets in the fall and set up contracts to pave main thoroughfares in the spring.
“It’s not a situation where you can walk away from and come back to in 24 months, 36 months,” Smith said. “Between that time span, your roads are continuing to decline, so if I’m already in a situation where I see we’re behind where we should be, the more we wait, the longer we discuss, the worse the situation becomes.”