Two years ago at a public event, a friend got in my face and in an uncharacteristic, agitated voice said, “Fix my street!” Initially I thought he was joking. But after two attempts to change the subject, I realized he wasn’t laughing.
His street, Bermuda Dunes, is so full of cracks and raveling (surface erosion), that it’s hard to find a smooth spot the whole quarter-mile length of it. The same problem exists on the many cul-de-sacs and streets teeing off of the lower half of Georgia Avenue.
On my morning bike rides, I started paying closer attention and found other serious asphalt problems like alligator cracks, upheavals, shoving (washboard ripples), and even bird-bath depressions and serious potholes. And not just on hidden side streets. The deep canyon cracks on Buchanan Boulevard and Wyoming Street are as wide as 4-6 inches and growing. And similar cracks and upheavals make the River Mountain Loop Trail and other paths almost unrideable in places.
Many of our streets haven’t been repaired in well over a decade, and Band-Aid fixes like crack filling and slurry sealing only temporarily mask the problems as they continue to worsen.
If cost weren’t a factor, then Public Works Director Keegan Littrell would be scheduling every street and path for repair or replacement on a 5-7 year rotating cycle. But it is a factor, and usually a prohibitive one.
The millions of dollars that Boulder City receives annually from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada typically only repairs one major thoroughfare and a few side streets each year. The recent Arizona Street and Utah Street projects are examples of conspicuous successes. But the vast majority of our streets are neglected and continue to deteriorate rapidly. As generous as it is, current RTC funding levels clearly aren’t enough.
We need a better plan, and we need it now. If we can’t get significant funding increases from the RTC or other outside sources, then we probably need to supplement with a funding plan of our own. Maybe the city’s capital improvement fund is a partial solution? Finding sufficient funds when there aren’t easy solutions is among the difficult burdens that we task our City Council and staff with as our representatives and advocates.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not an alarmist. Deteriorating pavement won’t ever be a significant potential safety hazard on the same level as a major power outage, water shortage or sewer failure could be. But like our traditional utilities, our streets and trails present an ongoing infrastructure challenge that we need to repair and replace on a regular basis.
Otherwise, they’ll start becoming a noticeable aggravation in our neighborhoods and eventually even a tourist and home buyer deterrent as maintenance slackens, appearances worsen and the “run-down” reputation takes over.
Since talking to my friend two years ago, I’ve repeatedly tried to raise public awareness about these issues. And while I don’t believe that my words have completely fallen on deaf ears, it’s clear to me that we still haven’t made our pavement problems a priority or come up with a feasible plan of action to address them. Our streets and paths weren’t part of our recent utility or facilities studies, for instance.
And, quite frankly, I don’t think they need to be.
The problems are obvious to even a lay person, so we just need to take them off of the back burner, stop kicking the can down the road (pun intended), and make them an integral part of our ongoing public discussions and action plans, including our annual capital improvement and budget planning.
If we’re really so flush with end-fund and reserve balances in our utility fund and general fund as a few of our public officials have insisted over the past few years, then maybe that’s because we’re once again sweeping infrastructure needs like our streets under the rug.
We don’t want Boulder City to become the proverbial “road less traveled,” much less to earn the label of Pothole Paradise. Let’s begin now and do something about it before the problem overwhelms us.
Rod Woodbury has resided in Boulder City for more than 40 years and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law. He served on the City Council from 2011- 2019, including four years as mayor.