Driver fees boost Wilson road maintenance budget

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An additional $20 fee for Wilson residents’ vehicle registration equated to an additional 2 miles of resurfaced city streers during the first year of implementation.

Two miles might not seem like much, but it more than doubled the annual budget for preservation of the 232 miles of city-maintained streets. Prior to legislation in 2015 that enabled cities to add a vehicle fee for streets, the city’s budget was limited to a portion of the annual $1.36 million Powell Bill allocation. Roughly $300,000 was earmarked for street preservation and resurfacing, which meant each year the city could improve about a mile and half of streets.

Since the additional fee was added to registration renewals in July 2016, Wilson collected $485,000 and was able to increase the annual work to 3.5 miles of streets.

“This funding is absolutely vital to sustain the streets system,” said Wilson Assistant Public Works Director Bill Bass. “Even with this additional funding, we’re still going to struggle. You won’t see a substantial improvement in the next eight to 10 years because of where we are at this point.”

Every three years, an independent engineering firm is hired to ride every Wilson street and evaluate the condition based on cracking, oxidation, patching and ridability. The streets are rated on a scale of zero to 100.

Nineteen percent, or 45 miles, of Wilson’s streets rate below a 60.

“The 60 equates to zero remaining life in that pavement,” said Bass.

Those ratings are just the starting point as staff work to plan for street maintenance. Public Works Director Bryant Bunn said staff rides the streets again to evaluate what treatment is necessary and evaluate the utilities also lying below the surface.

“The last thing we want to do is repave a street with old utilities and the utility fails, so they have to cut into brand-new pavement,” Bass said. “We try to look at the street at a holistic level.”

The city’s geographic information system keeps track of the age of water, sewer and other utilities, but public works staff meets with crews from other operations departments every two weeks to go through all upcoming projects and check for crossover. Once everything is factored in, staff plans the work several years out.

Bass said the 21 streets planned for work in the next fiscal year rate below a 50, meaning crews use other maintenance options — such as patching — in an attempt to keep the rest of the streets from degrading and requiring more expensive repairs.

Once maintenance isn’t enough, crews employ a variety of preservation options such as sealing at a cost of roughly $80,000 a mile.

“The biggest enemy of pavement is water,” said Bunn. “If we can keep that out, we can help it last a little longer.”

Once preservation isn’t enough, the cost more than doubles to about $190,000 a mile to resurface the road. If the damage includes the top asphalt, the stone base and the soil sub-base, crews have to reconstruct the road at a price tag of nearly $1 million a mile.

The Wilson City Council tossed around the idea of a $10 million bond a few years ago to help with street maintenance, but Bunn said increased annual funding is better than one chunk of change.

“The problem is that bond would take care of the 19 percent, but where do we go from there? If we don’t have money to keep the maintenance up, we’d be back at 19 percent,” he said. “We’d rather have funding every year. It is a lot more sustainable and makes the planning process a lot easier.”

Bunn said he’s received a couple calls since the fee was implemented, but residents were fine once he explained how the money would be used.

“I think people are very surprised when they find out how much it costs to mill and pave a street,” Bass said.