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GR City Commission Appoints Sustainable Streets Task Force | News

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GR City Commission Appoints Sustainable Streets Task Force
News, Transportation
GR City Commission Appoints Sustainable Streets Task Force

The Grand Rapids City Commission appointed business, neighborhood and community leaders to the Sustainable Streets Task Force today to identify solutions for the City's street crisis. The Transformation Advisors - a citizens group appointed last year by the City Commission to look at the City's entire budget - recommended to the City Commission that a task force be appointed. The Transformation Advisors report, released last year (2/22/11) stated: "Deferred investment and disinvestment in our physical infrastructure cannot continue. Investment is necessary to prevent deterioration of our infrastructure, encourage economic development activities, and position our citizens and city for the future." The City's Transformation Investment Plan envisions utilizing the work of the newly appointed Sustainable Streets Task Force to develop investment recommendations for the community and city leaders.

Mayor Heartwell said that he hopes the Task Force will provide a number of different scenarios for the City Commission and community to consider. "I would like to see the conversation be about making effective investments using an asset-management approach. How can we do business differently? Are there some services that should be reduced or eliminated? There may be some functions that the City's Street Fund supports today - like stormwater infrastructure and forestry - that perhaps should be paid for differently."

The work of the Task Force is critically important because money from the City's General Operating Fund to pay for streets will run out in the City's fiscal year 2014 - less than 18 months from now. "After July 1, 2013, the City's General Operating Fund will no longer be able to support investments in street capital projects," said Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong, "this is of significant concern when only 6% of our street system is in good condition, 38% in fair condition and 56% in poor condition. That is why the work of the Sustainable Streets Task Force is so critical." Other funding sources, including monies from the State Gas and Weight Tax revenues, have been declining by more than 2% per year; failing to support even basic maintenance needs for public infrastructure.
 
"July 1, 2013, will mark the start of when the City is only able to preserve investments on main streets like Alpine Avenue, Burton Street, Fuller Avenue, E. Fulton Street, Kalamazoo Avenue, Michigan Street, Leonard Street, Monroe Avenue and Pearl Street. Unless funding levels change, the remainder of the street system (collectors and neighborhood streets) will not have any work done on them to reconstruct or extend the life of our investment," said Mark De Clercq, City Engineer. This issue is alarming, City officials say, because, if preventative maintenance such as joint repair, cape sealing, and resurfacing is not done to keep streets in good repair, the cost to reconstruct the streets increases exponentially in the long-run; what might have cost the community a dollar today will cost seven dollars in the future.
 
Due to the State's economic downturn, the City has experienced major cuts to State Shared Revenues - more than $100 million dollars since 2002 have been retained by the State that once went into City coffers. Losses are mounting at the rate of an additional $14 million per year. The loss of these State revenues, combined with declining property tax and income tax revenues, has pinched City General Operating Fund resources and required many difficult choices to keep valued services intact. Cost reduction efforts have not outpaced the rising costs of materials and the declining condition of the city's streets, alleys, and bridges. "It's a daily challenge to try to keep up with the work that you know needs to be done and the lack of resources to do it with," said James Hurt, Public Services Director.
 
It is expected that the Task Force will review past and current funding sources and services and then provide an evaluation of:

  • what the city's infrastructure will look like in 10 years if no new solutions are found;
  • how much it would cost to maintain the present level of quality and capacity and how to pay for it; and
  • how much it would cost to build and then maintain a first-class system and potential sources of investment.

The Task Force will begin work immediately and will deliver a "State of the Streets" message at the City Commission's May 15, 2012, meeting. Community meetings will follow shortly thereafter in late May and early June to inform the public about the current condition of the city's street system. Over the summer, the Task Force will evaluate alternatives and then ask for community feedback in the fall. It is planned that final recommendations will be provided to the City Commission by December of this year.

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