(STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA / Nov. 21, 2019) – Ask just about any resident what would you do to improve Stillwater, and the answer will be “fix the roads.”
What would surprise most is that from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2020, the Stillwater City Council has appropriated $25.9 million for capital projects to do just that.
That’s a lot of money. So why aren’t the potholes fixed?
City Engineer Monty Karns said that’s a good question, but he has answers.
$25.9 Million for Capital Transportation Projects
Capital transportation projects are major street reconstruction projects, ranging from sidewalks, bridges, stormwater drainage, milling and repaving, to full reconstruction of the roadbed. They are essential to keep the City’s infrastructure in a state of good repair.
The City of Stillwater plans, funds and oversees construction of capital projects; however, some of projects are in conjunction with partners like Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Payne County and Oklahoma State University.
The $25.9 million for transportation projects and programs is broken down as follows:
$11.6 Million for Pavement Management Program
What is pavement management? After investing in repaving and repairing streets, the City also takes steps to keep that pavement in good shape as long as possible. To do that, the Pavement Management Program (PMP) identifies, prioritizes and recommends maintenance strategies (preventative maintenance, rehabilitation, reconstruction, deferred maintenance) for each street based on their condition and use. Funds were allotted in FY17, FY18, FY19 and FY20 for a total of $11.6 million.
“This allows us to extend the life of streets,” Karns said. “A good example is 19th Avenue from Western to Sangre, which was rehabilitated in FY2019. By doing some preventative maintenance with a thin surface overlay, we won’t have to rebuild this street for many years.”
However, it takes a lot of steps to execute this program. “For example, even though we have data on the streets, there’s a lot of analyzing to determine which streets get what kind of treatment,” Karns explained.
Once that decision is made there may be up to six or seven bids to announce and award and then six to seven contracts to manage the work.
$4 Million for Bridge Projects
In addition to planned bridge projects (which includes 3rd Avenue over Boomer Creek and Husband Street over Boomer Creek), the City also had to budget for an emergency repair for the bridge on 26th Avenue that was damaged in the floods earlier this year.
“While it may not seem like adding another bridge project to the list is a big deal, but when you think of the steps,” he explained, “it’s easier to understand why it takes a while to do things.”
For emergency repairs, the to-do list includes: assess damage (repair or replace?), determine funding (is local, state or federal funding available?), engineering (do it in-house or outsource?), determine the scope (replace it like it was or expand and improve it?).
Once this information is gathered, staff goes to City Council to get funding and approval. For the 26th Avenue bridge, council voted on Nov. 4 to replace the bridge. Once the contract is signed along with insurance and bond certificates, Karns estimated that construction would begin before the end of the year and take three to four months to complete.
Bridge projects currently funded are as follows:
$1.84 Million for Street Projects
Street projects included in the FY2020 budget are as follows:
So how are street projects selected?
According to Karns, some are many years in the making. “Street projects may be part of general concepts in some of the City’s Master Plans or are considered because of public input gathered through various platforms,” he added.
If a street is to be modified, the following steps have to take place: selecting an engineer, surveying, studies, locating and possibly moving utilities, securing additional rights of way, design work, call for bids for construction, refining the budget and possibly going back to council if the budget exceeds the original appropriation.
“Expanding, reducing and redesigning streets is much more than fixing the pavement. In fact, the design work (which includes studying the soil, terrain and stormwater drainage) may take a year to complete,” he said. “Securing rights of way may also take a year—and that does not include time if condemnation is needed.”
Also since 2016, staff has followed the Multimodal Transportation Policy when street projects are considered. Multimodal (also called active or alternative transportation) calls for street designs to incorporate the needs of multiple users (not just vehicles), which may be the addition of or the improvement of sidewalks and bike paths.
“All of this must be completed before construction begins,” Karns explained. “Once we are ready to begin that phase, delays may be caused by weather and the availability of materials and work crews.”
He pointed out that roadwork is slow and steady. “Crews work under the philosophy that working slowly, carefully and methodically is much safer and less disruptive than rushing the work as quickly as possible.”
$6.1 Million for Joint Projects with ODOT
The City of Stillwater often partners with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) on street projects.
“Many people don’t realize this, but 6th Avenue (SH 51) and Perkins Road (US 177) are maintained by ODOT,” Karns explained. “ODOT is responsible for planning, funding, repaving, striping, removing snow and ice, and filling potholes.”
However, the City is an active and involved partner for projects that ODOT is working on within city limits. In addition to the highways themselves, ODOT works to improve access to them—even on city-owned streets.
Current joint projects include the following:
“These projects will take years to complete, because ODOT plans so far out,” Karns said.
For the Perkins Road project, the City is responsible for design, utility relocation and rights of way acquisitions, ODOT is responsible for construction, which is scheduled to begin 2021.
“As we have discussed, design, utility relocation and acquiring rights of way takes time. There are a lot of moving parts at this phase,” Karns said. “However, we are almost finished with the City’s responsibility on the project.”
There are other reasons joint ODOT projects seem slow going. For some projects, there are additional requirements like environmental clearances which is the case for the Airport Industrial Road project.
For this project, because construction is through parkland that received federal funds, the environmental clearance may take up to two years to complete. Staff must gather information that covers a broad range of topics from historical significance, noise pollution, mitigation plan for wetlands and where to relocate the park and recreation facilities.
But what about potholes?
The City’s Public Works Department is responsible for filling potholes and that does not come out of the $25.9 million. According to Public Works Director Mark White, “We take care of the potholes that residents call in as problems, and we also take care of streets that we know need work. Eventually, those streets will be addressed by the capital improvement program.”
The remainder of the $25.9 million are tools that help improve the streets as well. This includes the following:
City of Stillwater’s transportation money comes from a variety of funds.
“With the various funding sources, project types and partners, the City’s transportation program is complicated,” Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said. “Although it can take from a few months to years to complete a project, City Engineering staff are dedicated to ensuring that the transportation needs of Stillwater are being met.”
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