The rubber has met the road in the city of Pendleton, and it’s starting to show.
Despite the city nearly tripling its annual street maintenance budget within the past few years, the Pendleton City Council received a report Tuesday that showed that the town’s roads were continuing to degrade.
Public Works Director Bob Patterson said consultant Capitol Asset & Pavement Services drove around Pendleton’s 76-mile street system and graded each road segment on a 0-100 scale called the pavement condition index.
According to the most recent report, Pendleton’s pavement condition index is 61, down seven points from a 2013 analysis.
Additionally, the share of roads that are considered to be in “good” condition fell from 61.4 percent to 43.1 percent.
Leading up to the 2013 report, Patterson said the city’s pavement score was aided by state and federal grants that paid for a new overlay on Tutuilla Road, street improvements at the Airport Industrial Park, and the Airport Road extension.
The city also benefited from an increase in the state gas tax and a change in the distribution formula that netted the city more than $200,000 in extra street funding, Patterson reported.
He said the city didn’t receive those same grants between 2013 and 2018, but the city did assume 3 miles of below-average streets from Umatilla County in exchange for a county contribution to the Eighth Street Bridge project, and the street system endured a few harsh winters on top of the usual wear and tear.
Prior to 2015, the city mostly relied on its cut of the state’s gas tax to supply its annual road maintenance budget, which was $300,000 per year.
Beset with widespread complaints about road maintenance, the city council proposed a 5-cent gas tax and a street utility fee to bolster street funding.
While voters rejected the gas tax, the council was able to enact the utility fee, which now ranges from $5.30 per month to $425.35 per month based on the size of customers’ waterlines.
Patterson said the city now maintains an $825,000 annual street repair budget, but it still isn’t enough.
He hadn’t accounted for a new 4-cent state gas tax that went into effect this year, which he estimated would bring another $128,000 into the street fund’s coffers.
But otherwise, the city will have to make cuts or look into new sources of revenue to reverse the road system’s downward trend.
Capitol Asset & Pavement Services predicts that raising the street funding level to $1.1 million per year would stop the bleeding while maintaining current pavement conditions. But it would also lead to a slight increase in the inventory of very poor roads over the next 10 years.
Increasing the funding level to $1.6 million would increase the pavement condition score by five points, while making modest progress in decreasing the amount of roads that are scored “poor” or “very poor.”
Both options would only make a small dent in the eight-figure maintenance backlog, but if the city really wanted to go for broke, the consultant calculated that it would need to spend $4.1 million per year, which would eliminate deferred maintenance and raise the city’s pavement score all the way to 82.
Patterson presented some options to the council as to how they would collect more revenue to treat the current system.
The council could double the street utility fee to maintain the 61 pavement score or triple it to raise it to 66.
Patterson said the council could also explore a gas tax, a proposal City Manager Robb Corbett said would shift some of the burden to travelers.
“That concept has been very difficult to explain to the average citizen,” Mayor John Turner said. “It’s been very unpopular.”
If the city doesn’t take any action, the report estimates that Pendleton’s pavement condition index will fall to 53 in another decade.
In an interview before the meeting, Patterson said the city’s street system is on a “slippery slope” on the maintenance curve, and it will only continue its descent more quickly if nothing is changed.
Turner said the council would spend the next workshop reviewing all the options.
“Everything’s on the table.” he said. “From gas tax, to utility fees, to other sources of revenue, to sending our roads back to gravel.”
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.