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Rough ride: One-third of Seattle's arterial streets are in poor shape

Backlogged paving maintenance costs grew to $900 million in 2013.

Potholes, broken or cracked pavement, rutted lanes. These are some of the ailments that afflict Seattle's roughest arterial streets.

A recently completed Seattle Department of Transportation assessment found that about 36 percent of the city's 490 miles of arterials were in some form of poor condition last year. That number is up from 26 percent in 2010 and is higher than any other year SDOT has evaluated since 2003. The proportion of city arterials in the worst shape more than doubled between 2010 and 2013. 

The costs associated with undone repair work are also stacking up. Back in 2010, the amount of money required to take care of SDOT's backlog of deferred paving maintenance totaled just over $570 million. By last year, the figure had ballooned to about $900 million.

The explanation for the growing backlog is simple enough.

"The rate of deterioration of the pavement is exceeding what we're spending on repairs," said Elizabeth Sheldon, SDOT’s Director of Street Maintenance.


The percentage of Seattle arterial streets in seriously poor or failed condition more than doubled between 2010 and 2013. Source: SDOT

The city's budget for its two major paving programs was $17.9 million in 2013 and $16.1 million in 2014. In both years, SDOT allocated an additional $2 million for pothole repairs. Since 2007, the city's voter-approved Bridging the Gap levy has funded most of the city's major repaving projects. While repair needs have still outpaced maintenance efforts, the levy has helped to keep street conditions better than they might have become.


The city's Arterial Asphalt and Concrete Program, which involves major paving projects, has been largely funded with money from the Bridging the Gap levy since 2007. Source: SDOT

At the end of next year, the funding measure is set to expire.

"I anticipate we will have to go to the voters again," Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the City Council's Transportation Committee, said last week as he discussed the $365 million property tax levy. "It really has filled a huge need." 

Rasmussen, who is also on the Bridging the Gap oversight committee, added that he would be comfortable telling voters "you've trusted us with this money and here's what we've done."

The city's arterials deteriorated even as overall traffic declined. SDOT estimates the average citywide traffic volume each year using vehicle counts taken at 19 bridges. Between 2006 and 2012, the average amount of daily vehicle traffic went down by about 7 percent, based on these estimates. But high traffic volumes are not the only contributor to wear and tear.

"There are certain vehicles that put tremendously heavy loads on your roadways," said Larry Galehouse, director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation at Michigan State University. He noted tractor-trailers and garbage trucks, as well as buses, which are a primary mode of mass transit in Seattle. "It really accelerates the wear."

Galehouse said that a rough rule of thumb is that one loaded tractor-trailer can cause the same amount of road wear as approximately 9,600 automobiles.

Some of Seattle's older streets were not designed to handle those types of loads.

"A street built in the 1920's, no one anticipated the size of the buses that would be on it now," said SDOT's Sheldon.

Seattle is not the only city dealing with rough streets. Last October, a nonprofit research group called TRIP, ranked urban areas based on the share of their roadways in poor condition. Seattle was near the middle of the pack, according to the group, which is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, construction firms, and other organizations with ties to the road-building industry.

Among 20 metropolitan regions with more than 500,000 people, Seattle ranked 12th, meaning that eleven of the other cities TRIP ranked had a higher proportion of streets in bad condition. TRIP's analysis relied on 2011 Federal Highway Administration survey data and included not only locally maintained streets, but also state roads running through each urban area. A report the group issued earlier this year estimated that driving on rough roads costs the average Seattle motorist $625 annually in extra vehicle operating expenses.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, Seattle streets are bad, but look on the bright side. We got our $55,000,000 SLUT, and more shiny street cars are on the way. We're almost done with our $300,000,000 makeover of Mercer Street that makes it pretty for Paul Allen and the Gates Foundation. Soon we'll drop another $1.5 billion on our new waterfront park, seawall rebuild and third sports stadium, all of which will pair well with the row of shiny, super tall hotels DPD will soon permit adjacent to the corridor of land to be freed up by knocking down the rest of the Viaduct. The City of Seattle thinks "so what if there's a ton of potholes in the rest of town, not enough buses, and an affordable housing from hell as far as the eye can see."

Mud Baby

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Forgot to add City of Seattle's mantra: "We don't need no stinkin' impact fees."

Mud Baby

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen!

Seasoned

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

SDOT is great at spending money on shiny new projects and not so good at taking care of what we already have.

How about a citizen's initiative to suspend any new capital projects until the currently existing streets and bridges are repaired?

talisker

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 1:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd definitely sign on.

mspat

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, right. And the "progressives" would continue to build their bike lanes, because they lie through their teeth about everything. I'd say this: Until then streets are fixed, bicycles are banned EVERYWHERE in the city. That would force the "progressives" to act.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

But, but ..we are into VISION. Maintenance is boring!

Seasoned

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

In the photo of Market Street in Ballard showing the pothole, notice the overhead wires for trolley buses. It is buses that destroy streets, as the article alludes to. Buses pay nothing to use the streets -- no gas tax, no tolls, no license fees, no MVET's, no parking fees for their bus stops, no sales taxes, nothing. And buses do almost all the damage to streets in Seattle.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/51332149@N02/14468095975/in/set-72157644860778189

Here are some photos of bus damage to Seattle streets. They were taken on trolley bus routes in Queen Anne. It's amazing how buses in Seattle just destroy asphalt city streets.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 8:40 p.m. Inappropriate

So Lincoln, do you have an opinion on what causes the damage on the streets where buses don't go?

afreeman

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Weather and utility work, mainly. The "progressive" bicyclists routinely lie through their teeth about pavement damage, falsely claiming what every street engineer knows is complete bullshit -- that cars cause more damage to pavement than bicycles.

It's not true, just as it's not true that a bicycle licensing system can't work. "Progressives" lie just as effortlessly as any wingnut from the Palouse. What they share is complete stupidity, a lack of any scruples, and overwhelming arrogance.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Also Garbage trucks. They are heavy and trundle down the road once a week, and thanks to recycling, and composting we get 3 trucks a week.

Roads degrade faster when heavy vehicles bend the road bed. That's why bicycles do almost no damage, cars next, and buses & garbage trucks are the worst.

This letter has references to the actual studies.
http://www.bloomfieldhillsmi.net/residents/city_departments/residents/docs/Letter_to_the_City_of_Bloomfield_Hills_from_Hubbell.pdf

GaryP

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

http://www.nvfnorden.org/lisalib/getfile.aspx?itemid=261 has a pretty easy to read study of the effects of vehicle weight and road wear.

GaryP

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 11:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Plus, they go up the street one way, and back down the other. Inefficient!

Seasoned

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 5:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Heavy trucks cause the same sort of damage to streets as buses do.

A lot of damage to streets on Queen Anne is caused by roots of trees planted in parking strips. That is another stupid mistake that Seattle makes -- planting large trees with large root systems next to streets. Those trees damage sidewalks and streets.

But, side streets generally are in much better condition than streets with bus routes. The problem with little-used streets is that they NEVER get repaved or rebuilt. So, if you see side streets with damage, it is likely that they have not had any repair or matintenance work done on them for decades.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Obviously we should be spending far more money on maintenance and repairs to city streets and far less money on stupid mistakes like streetcars, buses, bike lanes, bus bulbs, et. al. The trivial amount of money that Seattle spends each year on street repairs and maintenance is a disgrace and just illustrates the lack of intelligence and common sense of Seattle's City Council.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 7:06 p.m. Inappropriate

As a cyclist I would much rather ride down an arterial with a well maintained surface and no bike lane rather than the typical Seattle bicycle infrastructure which comprises a bike lane full of potholes.

I also think we should be restoring our streets before spending extravagantly on parks but that is no longer an option.

WSDW

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 12:49 p.m. Inappropriate

This story can be seen as part of the build-up to another "Bridging The Gap" property tax levy. There is a sycophantic "oversight committee" which has not helped address this problem, as the plutocrat/bureaucrat alliance prioritized Mercer Street over all else in the current cycle.

Maintenance is basic; trophy projects are optional. How unfortunate that the City Council which controls these matters believes that it should choose the trophies while the voters are asked to vote on basic maintenance and public safety.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 1:04 p.m. Inappropriate

That's exactly what I thought when I saw this story--another tax grab coming up while money that should be spent on basic maintenance is spent instead on vanities and unnecessary nonsense. I'll be voting no, since it doesn't seem like they did much good with the last pot of money.

mspat

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, they lied to sell the first one, so all we can do is sit back and see what whoppers they'll tell to sell this one. Seattle's voters are the ultimate suckers, so the sky's the limit.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah yes, the "progressives" lay down their first marker, right here on Crosscut, for another street repair referendum. And Seattle's voters are probably stupid enough to go for it.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

If they had a "tax cuz we should pay more taxes" referendum, it would pass. Maybe, if we could get Eyeman to endorse these toungue in cheek, they might fail?

Seasoned

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Last year, my colleagues and I watched, with a mixture of irritation and amusement, as a newly paved stretch of Terry Avenue, (the bit that runs in front of the Amazon building) was ripped out and completely repaved. The adjoining sidewalk, paved with bricks, was also redone with new brick set in a different pattern. A galling spectacle in a town where many places have no sidewalks and basic infrastructure has been neglected for so long.

au

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 7:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Once we passed Bridging the Gap, the city cut back on general fund allocations for transportation which frees them up to spend on other things, but never does bridge the gap. Like the Parks District - it's marketed as a cure all to the long established habit of inadequate funding for maintenance of our assets. But it doesn't cure it because there is no priority for maintenance and once the "sustainable sources of funding" are established, people continue the same bad habits, except they then have funding for other priorities.

Posted Mon, Sep 8, 10:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Kate Martin, aren't you the "progressive" whackjob who wants to spend X amount of dollars to turn the viaduct into the Highline?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

We'll soon be subject to a long assault from SDOT's propaganda wing on all their magnificent accomplishments due to Bridging the Gap....but gosh they're still short hundreds of millions to "maintain" the system, and oh, at the same time they'll be funding new road diets to ensure slow travel times, more protected bike lanes to get a few hundred people off our overused buses, more bus lanes for our shrinking number of buses, and maybe a streetcar (or least a study) here and there. And the rest of us (i.e., the evil motorists) will be stuck with the bill and stuck in traffic.....

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 4:21 p.m. Inappropriate

"Manufactured consent". Same old story.

simorgh

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen. I expect it momentarily.

mspat

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

This was in reply to Eyewitness.

mspat

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 10:59 a.m. Inappropriate

"Eyewitness" You and other car drivers are going to be stuck in traffic because there is no where to put more roads. The alternatives are to get more people to choose another mode of transportation. To make mass transit attractive it has to at least keep up with cars driving alone. Since transit makes multiple stops, it has to travel faster than the general lanes to do a trip in the same time, that means bus lanes which are not crowded. To make bicycling a viable alternative, you need safe routes, that's protected bike lanes and "Greenways" (sidestreets with traffic calming and bicycle speed timed lights etc.)

GaryP

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 5:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Gary P, if we're lucky, your bike will hit a pothole at just the right moment.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Notice the graph, and the years at the beginning before the unanticipated recession. What was anyone thinking in 2005? That was the year Greg Nickels was re-elected.

Has anyone considered carpools? The only carpool facilities in Seattle are on interstate highways. Seattle does NOTHING to promote car-pooling. Maybe allowing carpools in underutilized transit-only lanes should be tried, on SR 99 north and south of downtown to start.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 2:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Painted bicycle logos should only be allowed on top of existing potholes. Did not SDOT just announce hopes and wishes for $20,000,000 per year for 20 years for bicycle enhancements? Stop the insanity!

animalal

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