Alder David Ahrens
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Ahrens’ Updates
Streets, streets, streets
Over the past month, I've knocked on hundreds of doors in the district and by far, the number one issue is the sorry state of our streets.
There are about 200 "unimproved streets" in the south section of District 15. Most of them are south of Cottage Grove Road.
Many of these streets are now badly substandard. They are marked by deep cracks, potholes and humps of tar and patch that make driving difficult and biking nearly impossible. Some of the roads have not been sealed for a half-dozen years or more. Most have not been substantially rebuilt for decades.
Streets that are bus routes and are major avenues are called "collectors" such as Turner Ave and Cottage Grove Rd. These collectors merge into major roads called "arterials" such as Monona Dr., E. Washington Ave and Stoughton Rd.
Budgets: Other than expenditures for police and fire, funds for repair and building of roads comprise the largest part of the city budget. However, by far the major share of the roads budget goes towards building new roads and reconstructing old roads. For example, in 2016 Cottage Grove Rd. will undergo a major reconstruction in conjunction with the Royster Corners project. In 2019 (hopefully), Buckeye will be reconstructed. These are multi-million dollar projects.
Unfortunately, road repair and reconstruction work on smaller mid-sized streets are less common. Reconstruction of smaller streets is only 10% of the capital budget for road repair. These are streets that already have curbs and sidewalks.
The budget for the "rural to urban" streets program which reconstructs unimproved streets, like ours, is $2 million.
A second aspect of the streets program is for street repair and maintenance. These are the patching program and "chip-sealing" with tar and crushed gravel. Although this program covers many streets it has substantially declined in recent years. For example, in 2010 the city purchased over 1,000 tons of crushed gravel for the program but last year only 452 tons were purchased.
Background: Our homes and our neighborhoods were established by other villages and towns that did not require curbs and sidewalks. When our neighborhoods were annexed into the city 50 years ago or more, Madison did not require the installation of sidewalks and curbs.
City policy has long been that homeowners and businesses paid for sidewalks and curbs at the time of initial construction and that if current homeowner has a sidewalk or curb added the homeowner should pay for this benefit when a street is reconstructed.
It is also the city policy that when a street is reconstructed – as opposed to simply patched or chip sealed- the street should at least have curbs constructed. Many residents oppose having curbs installed because of the cost and the more "urban look."
There is also a belief that the city will widen the streets, remove trees, lawns etc. However, that's rarely the case.
Looking forward: I have made the case to city staff and other members of the council that it cannot ignore the major problems faced by residents of the city who live and work in areas with "unimproved roads." Even if they are unimproved, we still need drive-able, safe roads. Indeed, that may mean we need more, not less, services such as more frequent sealing, post-winter patching, etc.
Second, for those streets with significant traffic from buses or near schools, residents have to consider major reconstruction. This will include installation of curbs. Major streets such as Turner and Dean have already been so eroded that they would not have to be widened. Storm water, plowing and parking on lawns have eaten away at lawns and as a result the streets are wide enough to provide parking.
The benefit of curbs are threefold: 1.. They keep the asphalt from breaking up and creating side ruts and further erosion; 2. They keep vehicles from parking on lawns and plows from "creasing" your lawn; 3. They direct storm water into inlets and prevent erosion of streets.
The downside is we have to pay for them. (Note: I live on a corner lot with probably 150 feet of potential "curb.")
Bottomline: The city has to fairly invest in those streets that are not going to be reconstructed. That means regular maintenance and repair. For major streets that are crumbling, homeowners may have to make a long-term investment in a curb and in return the city should make a major investment in a new road that will stay in good repair.
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