A roads management consultant has recommended that Alachua County Board of County Commissioners invest $15 million annually to repair, maintain and preserve county roads in a proposed pavement management system.
According to Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete, engineers from the Kercher Group, a company that offer strategic infrastructure and transportation management services, inspected 99 percent of the roads in Alachua County and then developed an average price per square yard of pavement treatment options ranging from sealing to reconstruction that would bring the roads up to maintenance standards.
Gavarrete presented the concept of Pavement Condition Index (PCI) which is a numerical rating of road pavement condition that values the pavement on a scale of 0 to 100.
The average rating of pavement in Alachua County is currently 60 out of 100, he told the BOCC, and asked the board members to consider the 700 miles of roadways in Alachua County as an asset that would be valued at $1.5 billion if they were in excellent condition with a PCI rating of 90 or higher.
Gavarrete said his public works crews are continually playing catch up with patching holes.
"If every 5 to 8 years you do some preservation to the asphalt, public works crews can focus on other projects," he said, adding that 84 percent of the current roads net worth is in dire need of rehab or reconstruction
"We have roadways in this county that were paved 40 years ago," Gavarrete said.
According to the Kercher Group study, crack sealing to preserve roads costs 65 cents per square yard, patching costs $44 per square yard and reconstruction costs $156 per square yard.
Minor rehab, such as crack seal or overlay, protects roads from falling apart and adds to the life of the road. Gavarrete added that by reducing maintenance costs, public works crews could focus on other services such as tree trimming and bridge maintenance.
Gavarrete's recommendation to the BOCC is to increase the road maintenance funding from the current $4 million to $15 million annually with a 4 percent increase each year.
The recommendation would maintain the roads at a PCI of 60 with a goal of increasing the pavement condition of PCI 70 or higher over time.
"Our current practice is to treat the worst roads first using all of our funding for higher traffic routes and replacing culverts when they fail," Gavarrete said. "But I would like to fix them before that."
The proposed pavement management system would rank the priority of road maintenance with a mix of rehab and reconstruction that would be generated by the benefit cost ratio.
If the system moves forward and is approved by the BOCC, Gavarrete said the county website would host the system and residents would be able to monitor the road pavement projects.
The BOCC unanimously agreed with Gavarrete's recommendation of "maintaining 30 percent of the county roadways in good condition (PCI of at least 80 percent)" and an annual investment of $15 million starting in 2023 with 4 percent annually towards pavement management projects that include preservation and rehabilitation.
Commissioner Mary Alford said that roads are an investment that must be maintained and added that another consideration is the expenses incurred by commuters in car repairs when they travel regularly on low quality roads. Alford reported that an average vehicle needs $500 repair cost per year for 150,000 drivers in the county. "That's a $75 million impact that wouldn't be spent on repairs if our roads were in shape."
"We increase property values when we fix roads, we increase the opportunity for economic development, we increase the amount of money that people keep in their pocket to spend here on things besides car repairs. It's smart to rearrange and do the right thing," she said.
County Manager Michele Lieberman said she supports the $15 million goal and said there are several ways to fund it such as using the already established unincorporated Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) and adding funds to its budget.
"My hope would be after two or three years...the public sees work going on, we could go back in 2026 and propose a road tax, and they will see that roads were being done," Lieberman said.
In November 2014, a proposed one-cent sales tax for eight years to fund transportation lists for Alachua County and the City of Gainesville for $30 million annually failed in a vote of 40 percent in favor to 60 percent voting against.