Every county, city, town or village in the world has some sort of street or road system to allow people to move themselves and their products safely from one place to another.
It doesn’t matter if you use a horse drawn cart as they do in some areas, a gasoline/diesel-powered vehicle or an electric vehicle as some people do, you still need a road to travel on.
The city of Lompoc is no different. There are 130 miles of city-maintained streets and alleyways in Lompoc, and on April 6 the City Council discussed a five-year plan for road maintenance projects. The picture painted by the assistant public works director wasn’t pretty.
The way Lompoc and all other agencies evaluate the need for street maintenance is to use what’s known as the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), which is a nationally recognized means of determining how good or bad the roads are.
The PCI goal is a rating of 70 “good.” Lompoc has an average of 55, which means “at risk.” The index has trended down from 66, a “good” rating 10 years ago to what it is today. So has the amount of funding dedicated to repair streets — in 2010 it was about $4.5 million annually and in 2019 it was less than $1 million.
The staff explained to the council that they try to lump projects so they get more bang for the buck, so in alternating years they contract for larger projects. For the year ending June 30, 2020 the General Fund spent $3.2 million on street and road repair, and engineering services to support.
The focus has been on the primary streets known as arterials and collectors that serve the most users on a daily basis; the PCI for these streets is between 72 and 77, which is a “very good” rating.
Residential streets are another story. The PCI average for residential streets is 49, a “poor” rating and that is clearly evident by the condition of the street I live on. Our street has some severe alligator cracking, patching of water utility leak repairs, rutting and depressions caused by heavy trucks, and loss of aggregate from the road surface.
The city has been notified of this condition, including pictures of the damage, but has not taken any action to repair it. So, each week I sweep up more of the aggregate that has blown off the surface of the street into the gutter, and watch as three heavy trash and several delivery trucks a week deepen the ruts in the road.
Funding for road repairs is always an issue. Staff told the City Council it would require $70 million to overlay all the residential streets to bring them up to PCI goal of 70 and take several years to complete. This would take a commitment of an annual $8 million budget over the next 10 years.
“Most of the alleyways are in neighborhoods where they’re already impacted by a million other things and, on top of that, I’ve driven some of the alleyways in this town and they’re horrible in condition,” said Councilmember Gilda Cordova.
“I’m not saying that’s staff’s fault. I’m saying that we need to be more responsible and at least try to … start dropping some money in the bucket,” she said.
Then she asked, “What is the plan; where do we go from here to fix all these streets?”
The city manager said it was all about funding. In years past, gasoline taxes, which are based on the number of gallons consumed and not the pump price, were a big source of funding.
However, state and federal mandates to increase vehicle miles per gallon and the current trend toward electric-powered vehicles and hybrids that can get 40-50 miles per gallon have substantially reduced the amount of gas tax coming to the city.
Other than this explanation, the CM provided no plan as Cordova had requested. She then made the point that over the past few years the council has consistently touted the fact that they “have made budget cuts to save taxpayers money,” but Cordova said, “this has not benefitted the community” as demonstrated by this report.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Grover Beach voters approved a Street Rehabilitation, Safety Improvement Bond Measure. In approving the measure, the city was authorized to issue up to $48 million in bonds to fund street rehabilitation and repair. This is one of many such funding mechanisms that could be used to fix Lompoc’s infrastructure problems.
Like many other cities and towns across America, Lompoc’s streets need help. And like many other cities, Lompoc simply doesn’t have the revenue to return our streets to the “good” rating we had just 10 years ago.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.