What’s Left Out of a New Road’s Price Tag

What’s Left Out of a New Road’s Price Tag

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Genevieve Vigil has complained to the city about the condition of Picador Boulevard, an ailing street she drives every weekday in Otay Mesa. Money is available to repave the road, but the project is one of many that's been delayed.

 

Yesterday, San Diego’s City Council officially created a new committee to fix its backlog of broken streets, storm drains and buildings.

New Councilman Mark Kersey, who represents the city’s northeastern neighborhoods and will head the committee, said creating a multi-year repair budget will be one of his top issues. This is a good thing. Long-range planning will help the city figure out how to prioritize its fixes.

But according to Michael Pagano, dean of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s urban planning college, that reform won’t be enough to ensure the city budgets the full cost of maintaining its infrastructure. The problem stems, Pagano writes in the Atlantic Cities, from governments separating their day-to-day budget from the pot of money that pays for infrastructure improvement:

Cities should manage public infrastructure the way one manages a large personal asset — by setting aside in a monthly budget a reasonable sum of money for basic repairs, maintenance, replacement, a new paint job.

Right now, cities (and other local governments and all state governments) separate their annual (or biennial) budgeting processes into two piles: one for the basic operations of the city; the other for the capital investment activities of the city, which cannot be used for basic maintenance and repair.

By separating the two budgetary processes, there is never enough funds for basic repairs, maintenance, replacement, a new paint job for the new or expanded capital asset that appears in the capital budget because the operating budget is already crowded with too many commitments from previous years’ basic repairs, maintenance, replacement activities, not to mention all the other service responsibilities, such as public safety.

Pagano suggests cities should follow Utah’s lead. By law, the state sets aside money to maintain and repair buildings when they’re constructed. Maintenance costs, then, are included in the building’s price tag.

As we’ve noted: Lack of money isn’t the only hurdle blocking the city from fixing its infrastructure woes. Without more effective planning and bureaucratic reforms, lots of cash won’t fix roads, buildings and other infrastructure in the short or long term.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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2 comments
Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

The current proposal of a bond to bring infrastructure up to snuff is probably needed, but in reality it is a decision to borrow money to pay for repairs deferred over a long period of time in past years. One cannot repair infrastructure prospectively. Therefore, the bond will pay for past deferrals and will be paid for in future years, but does not resolve the issue of a need for pay as you go repairs as time goes on. So in addition to paying a bond for past deferrals, we will also need to pay for current needs, unless the goal is to address past oversights, then wait another 30 years and do another bond.

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

The current proposal of a bond to bring infrastructure up to snuff is probably needed, but in reality it is a decision to borrow money to pay for repairs deferred over a long period of time in past years. One cannot repair infrastructure prospectively. Therefore, the bond will pay for past deferrals and will be paid for in future years, but does not resolve the issue of a need for pay as you go repairs as time goes on. So in addition to paying a bond for past deferrals, we will also need to pay for current needs, unless the goal is to address past oversights, then wait another 30 years and do another bond.