sk any Charlotte resident what the number one issue facing the city is, and more often than not, fixing the roads is the first response. The deteriorating condition of the city’s streets is easily visible in nearly every neighborhood in the city.
While the issue may be easy to identify, it’s equally difficult to solve.
Charlotte City Council took an important first step this month, adopting a six-year reconstruction plan that targets some of the city’s worst major streets — Lovett, State, Lincoln, and Harris streets — and projects to spend close to $7 million in reconstruction and rehabilitation for the duration of the plan. In comparison, the City of Charlotte spent just $2.3 million on street reconstruction and rehabilitation in the previous six years.
The significant increase in funding for street reconstruction and rehabilitation is possible for a number of reasons. First, the City of Charlotte is starting with what City Manager Gregg Guetschow calls a healthy fund balance in the city’s street improvement fund — approximately $1.2 million. Second, the city now receives close to $330,000 annually from the Eaton County Road Millage. Third, Guetschow said the city is projecting increases in state funding for roads through the new gas and weight taxes. He said the city plans to channel all of the increased revenue into reconstruction and rehabilitation projects. Lastly, the city has two sources of revenue it plans to utilize in the form of inter-fund loans — the $800,000 Owens-Illinois money and the potential to borrow up to $400,000 from the city’s Land Development Finance Authority.
For nearly a year council members discussed, debated and analyzed the best way to move forward with its first street improvement plan.
“We were looking at the possibility of a bond, the O-I money, as well as what would happen if we didn’t do anything in terms of new revenue,” said Charlotte Mayor Tim Lewis. “We took a lot of time and there was a lot of discussion. There was a lot of give and take among the council. Everyone had their own opinion, but everyone was also looking at what is the best solution.”
In the end, the council took a bond proposal off the table, planning instead to utilize the O-I money and LDFA inter-fund loan to tackle E. Lovett Street in 2017 — from Cochran Avenue to Washington Street at a projected cost of $340,000; Lincoln Street in 2018 — from Lawrence Avenue to Seminary Street at a projected cost of $970,000; State Street in 2018 — from Seminary Street to Shepherd Street at a projected cost of $2 million; W. Lovett Street in 2019 — from Cochran Avenue to Sheldon Street at projected cost of $585,000; W. Harris Street in 2021 — from Cochran Avenue to Sheldon Street at a projected cost of $580,000; and E. Harris Street in 2022 — from Cochran Avenue to Lansing Road at a projected cost of $960,000.
“We’re pulling resources from a number of different pools in order to put this plan together,” Guetschow said. “This plan only works if the financial resources are there.”
DPW Director Amy Gilson said the reconstruction projects will give the new roads a 40-year useful lifespan, as long as regular maintenance is performed. While the council’s adopted plan tackles some of the city’s worst roads through reconstruction, it does not include money for rehabilitation (mill and fill) projects in the first two years. Rehabilitation projects launch in 2019.
The adopted plan represents the first comprehensive street improvement plan either Guetschow or Gilson could identify in the City of Charlotte’s recent history. While the $7 million represents a significant investment, both know it’s just the beginning.
The City of Charlotte has 37.82 miles of road, 22.076 of which are currently rated in poor condition and in need of reconstruction. It costs an estimated $2.4 million to reconstruct one mile of road, meaning it would cost the City $52,982,400 to reconstruct every mile of road rated as poor. Another 11.3 miles are currently rated fair and in danger of falling into the poor condition. Just 4.4 of the city’s 37.82 miles of road are rated good to excellent.
“It’s going to take us a long time to get on top of the situation,” Gilson said. “Over time, the plan is to get caught up and to chip away at the rest of them.”
Guetschow said the six-year plan will be analyzed each year to ensure the best use of the funds available and that revenues from the County and State continue as projected.
Mayor Lewis said the council will continue to look toward the future of the street improvement plan and keep discussions ongoing as to how they will be funded in the future.
“This is a monumental undertaking,” Lewis said. “We have a plan in place and are committed to making it happen year in and year out. I think it’s important people know that we are aware of their concerns, we are listening and we understand the scope of the issue.”