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Thursday, May 3, 2012 03:32 pm

Plan? What plan?

Still no fix for city infrastructure

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Springfield Mayor Mike Houston, who once said that he expected to have a plan to fix crumbling infrastructure without raising taxes within two months of his 2011 election, plans to present the city council with a plan for fixing streets and sewers by year’s end, Springfield public works director Mark Mahoney told the Citizens Club last Friday.

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion with the mayor: When are you going to have an infrastructure plan?” Mahoney told the group. “We know what the needs are. The issue comes down to funding. That comes down to the mayor and council making some tough decisions. Or deciding not to do anything. … We know that we’re failing on the infrastructure side. The hard part is deciding what to do.”

The numbers are daunting: The city needs $43 million a year to take care of streets but now spends $8.5 million, Mahoney said. The city needs another $55 million to fix and maintain sewers over the next decade, he said. The number of public works employees has fallen from 249 in 2009 to 175 today. The city has 310 miles of asphalt-paved streets, and more than 100 miles of those streets need resurfacing. The city will resurface less than 16 miles of asphalt streets this year. On average, asphalt streets need resurfacing every seven to ten years.

Mahoney said he’s been searching for funding ideas at the public library by looking through newspapers published during the Great Depression and shortly before, when the city embarked on a massive public works spending spree, paving dirt streets, constructing a sewage treatment plant, building a power plant and creating Lake Springfield. The federal government paid much of the tab via work programs during the Depression, Mahoney said, but that isn’t happening today. Before the Depression hit, the city paid for paving by assessing property owners whose land fronted streets that were converted from dirt.

During his hour-long presentation, Mahoney did not directly suggest that city will have to raise taxes to rehab potholes and fix sewer lines before they collapse. He did say that the city has fallen far behind where it should be in maintaining streets. The city spends $600,000 a year on concrete streets, many of them downtown, but that isn’t enough, he said.

“It’s really a crisis management situation,” Mahoney said.

The city this year is putting new pavement on a handful of less-traveled streets in neighborhoods, he said.

“A lot of them are in very poor condition,” Mahoney said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

Infrastructure needs aside, the city is considering changes to garbage collection and recycling services, Mahoney said. Allied Waste, one of four garbage companies in the city, has suggested larger household bins so that it would pick up recyclables every other week instead of weekly, Mahoney said. The city is also talking with garbage haulers about putting garbage bills on City Water, Light and Power bills instead of having haulers collect money themselves, Mahoney said, but he made no guarantees. It’s something that’s been suggested for years as a way of ensuring residents have trash service and don’t dump illegally.

Because each garbage company has customers throughout the city, as many as four trucks, one from each company, can travel down the same street each week to collect garbage, another four can go down the same street once a week to collect recyclables and another four can make the same weekly journey to collect yard waste.

Asked why the city doesn’t settle on a single hauler, which would save wear on streets while cutting down on fossil-fuel consumption and truck emissions, Mahoney in a post-meeting interview said that people want to be able to choose their garbage company. Pressed on whether most people care which company collects trash so long as trash is collected, Mahoney acknowledged that most residents probably don’t care.

“It’s a vocal minority,” Mahoney said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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