Rocky roads

Water collects in a pothole on 5th Avenue in front of the tax collector’s office on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

 

Street Talk with Mayor Johnny Magee

(This is Part 1 of a two-part series about work that is being done to pave streets and replace water and sewer pipes in the City of Laurel)

To the Citizens of Laurel and to our many visitors: 

I appreciate you so very much.

Streets are a major topic in the City of Laurel right now. We understand your frustration and offer some clarity on the street situation in the city.

The City of Laurel has approximately 340 lane miles of streets that we are responsible for the maintenance of. To put that into perspective, it is 346 miles from Laurel to Atlanta, and it is 350 miles, roundtrip, from Laurel to Pensacola. It costs approximately $500,000 to pave a mile of street, and that is only for the asphalt. That does not factor in any work on the water or sewer lines that are located under just about every street in the city, and these lines are usually in as bad or worse shape as the streets above them. 

Many years ago, when it was done, the best solution for water and sewer lines would have been to place them in the alleys behind the houses or in the rights-of-way off to the sides of the streets, then we would not have had to dig up the streets to fix water and sewer lines. But that is not what happened, so now we have the situation that we have now.

People complain often about potholes, and rightly so. We normally patch potholes with what is called “hot-mix,” which is basically hot asphalt. When it is raining or cold, the asphalt plant usually does not make asphalt, which means we cannot patch potholes. The plant also does not make asphalt unless it has a certain number of tons that will be sold. 

We are in the process of testing another product, which is  sometimes referred to as “cold patch,” and we are in hopes that it will be effective enough to allow us to patch potholes during the times that the plant is not producing asphalt. 

It was a very wet year, which led to many severe potholes. We have one crew dedicated to repairing potholes and utility cutouts, where a water or sewer line is repaired and it has to be filled with asphalt. If this cold patch works during the winter, we intend to deploy additional manpower to assist in getting caught up with pothole repair.

The City of Laurel is like many cities across the country that are having to deal with aging infrastructure. The routine way of handling underground infrastructure for years was to ignore it — “out of sight, out of mind” — so the street would be paved and the water, sewer and drainage that was underneath was not addressed. You would end up with a newly resurfaced street that is fine until the next sewer cave-in, next water leak or next collapsed drainage culvert. Sometimes this happens within a week of paving the street. When these events happen, the newly paved street is then dug up to make the repair, and you have a patch in the street that now allows water, heat and cold to infiltrate, and the deterioration of the newly paved street begins. The street that was newly paved ends up filled with potholes because the underlying cause was not corrected previously.

The current administration and council have chosen to be proactive and to repair the underground utilities whenever possible prior to resurfacing a street. It simply makes more sense to follow this plan. Following this plan takes more time and is costlier, but in the long run, it is a better maintenance plan for our streets. There is, though, sometimes a street that is in such severe condition that waiting to repair or replace the infrastructure is not possible, and we must overlay the street. These are usually on shorter, neighborhood-type streets, where there is not a great deal of traffic. On major thoroughfares, we attempt to stay with the replacement or repair of the underground utilities.

The refrain is often heard that “every” street in Laurel is horrible. I agree that there are many streets in Laurel that need attention, but not “every” street is horrible. Over the last few years, we have spent millions of dollars on resurfacing streets, and I know that if you ride down a particular street daily or live on a particular street that has not been resurfaced, then it definitely seems worse than it may be.

Keeping in mind that it costs approximately $500,000 to pave a mile of street, these are some of the streets in the last six years, where all or parts have been resurfaced: Cleveland Street, South Magnolia Street, Maple Street, Palmer Avenue, North 7th Avenue, University Avenue, 10th Avenue, East 16th Street, Haddon Street, Front Street, 29th Street, 10th Street, Rogers Street, Queen Street, Pine Street, Northgate Drive, Mason Street, Jefferson Street, Green Street, Gilbreath Drive,  Buchanan Street, South 6th Avenue, 2nd Avenue, 28th Street, 27th Street, 20th Street, East 1st Street, West 1st Street, 11th Avenue, 10th Street, 12th Street, Poplar Drive, Roberts Street, Rose Avenue, East Elmo Street, Ash Street, Bartlett Street, Bay Street, Elm Street, Hickory Street, McConkey Street, Joe Wheeler Street, Walters Avenue, 14th Street, 1st Avenue, Grandview Drive, West Drive, Old Bay Springs Road, Custom Avenue, Chestnut Street, Monroe Street, Miss. Avenue, Lee Street, Laurel Drive, King Street, Jarvis Street, Highland Park Drive, Flowers Drive, Ferrell Street, Conti Street, Congress Street, Carole Street, Carter Avenue, Broadmoor Street, Anderson Street, Jackson Street, 25th Street, Victoria Avenue, 11th Street, 14th Avenue, 15th Avenue, 26th Street, 3rd Avenue and 9th Street.

There is a method to all this seeming madness. 

(In Saturday’s edition, see what that method is and some of the paving plans.)

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