PENDLETON — This is the busiest street construction season Pendleton Public Works Director Bob Patterson can remember.
Bolstered by more than $1 million in urban renewal money, city contractors are set to complete 16 street overlay and reconstruction projects throughout the summer. Additionally, the city is paying to apply crack seals and slurry seals to more than 100 street segments across Pendleton, a preventative measure applied to streets in good condition.
But the city is reserving its urban renewal money for some of its streets in the worst condition. For years, Pendleton City Council members resisted allocating urban renewal money, which can only be spent on projects inside downtown Pendleton and some of the surrounding area, on public infrastructure projects, preferring to fund private projects. But the council began approving street projects in 2018, and this year, urban renewal is responsible for six street reconstruction projects.
Reconstruction efforts are typically reserved for the streets in the worst shape, requiring contractors to tear out and replace a street that’s in failing condition. In 2021, the city is targeting six street segments on Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets. Outside of the Urban Renewal District, the city also is paying for significant roadwork across 10 street segments around the city.
Patterson said the city has made a concerted effort to coordinate street repair work with underground utility replacement to avoid having to cut into the road twice. He added that the city has held off on some road repair projects until they fit into a better window with replacing water and sewer lines, meaning he expects an even bigger street construction season in 2022.
But the dual efforts to replace Pendleton’s aging street and utility infrastructure is complicating some of the financial math needed to get the projects completed.
Patterson said bids for the street projects have come in under their projected costs. But this trend has been counterbalanced by a rise in the price of resin, a material needed to build plastic utility pipes. In some cases, Patterson said he’s seen plastic pipes priced higher than iron ductile pipes.
The council also is beginning to reckon with how to alter its long-term road funding plans. Although urban renewal funding has provided Pendleton’s street funding with a shot in the arm, urban renewal revenue isn’t meant to be perpetual and is geographically limited. The COVID-19 pandemic also scrambled the city’s other plans. The city council dropped its campaign for a gas tax in light of the coronavirus, en route to a landslide defeat in the May 2020 election. The ensuing COVID-19 shutdowns also curbed the council’s appetite on pursuing a new hotel room tax and large event ticket fee to fund street maintenance.
With the council reaffirming its infrastructure goal for 2021, councilors are reevaluating how they approach their street maintenance goals. Patterson said talk has revolved around setting their goal around the street system reaching a certain level of the pavement condition index rather than trying to attain a definitive funding level.
“We want a concrete goal,” Patterson said, later noting the pun was unintentional.
Patterson said the city is set to commission a new evaluation of its street system’s condition in 2023.