Good intentions pave way to increased street work

Mike Arsenault

Mike Arsenault

By Jeff Keeling

On a shade-covered residential street in the Tunbridge neighborhood Thursday, Jamie Montoya walked alongside a Summers-Taylor Inc. road milling machine. Having scraped a thick layer of old pavement from the surface of Red Fern Circle, the Roadtec RX-700e crept along the street behind a dump truck, a conveyor belt at its front end regurgitating the used asphalt into a waiting dump truck.

The heavy machinery would spend the rest of the day, and the week, milling Tunbridge’s streets. It’s the midpoint of a process that begins with city public works and water/sewer crews, who prep the beaten-up streets for resurfacing. It concludes with other Summers-Taylor crews who lay down a “topcoat” of asphalt to give the streets another 20-30 years of smooth riding before the process is needed again. Streets without curbs and gutters don’t require milling prior to repaving.

For a number of years, funding for that resurfacing has allowed for only about half the work necessary to keep roads on a reasonable cycle. Instead, the cycle has been in the 65-year range. That all changed when the new fiscal year began July 1 with an additional $1.7 million in the resurfacing budget – more than double the amount spent last year.

In June, when Johnson City commissioners budgeted 10 cents of a 25-cent property tax increase to the city’s road resurfacing budget, they guaranteed city residents would see much more such activity than they have in recent years. Improving road conditions has appeared as a top priority on several recent citizen surveys. Vice Mayor Clayton Stout made it a key element of his willingness to consider a tax increase after opposing one in 2014, and cast the deciding vote on the increase this year.

The additional funding should double the rate at which the city’s 767 miles of streets can be resurfaced. City Manager Pete Peterson said the quickened pace actually will save taxpayers money over the long term.

“When we have adequate funding to go in and repave streets at a point when they only need repaving, it is much cheaper than having to wait until the structural base underneath that street is destroyed as well as the asphalt that you’re riding on,” Peterson said. “Then we have to go in and rebuild the street completely. If we’re in a maintenance mode with resurfacing, it is much more cost-effective and you can do more lane miles with the funding you’ve got to work with, versus having to go in and rebuild the street.”

Stout said greater cost-effectiveness is one reason he believes the greater investment in paving made sense.

“In the long run, it’s going to allow us to do other things,” he said. “If you’re having to allocate more and more money each year to roads because we’re letting them go too long, you’re taking away from other priorities that we want to address.”

The city has an internal schedule going out at least five years for resurfacing of neighborhood, “collector” and arterial streets, but Peterson said following the schedule isn’t quite as simple as just going down the list.

Mike Arsenault, the city’s assistant director of public works who oversees the street division, agreed. Each summer, the division tries to assess one third of the total mileage. Streets are ranked according to their numerical score using an “Overall Condition Index.” or OCI.

From there, many factors play into which neighborhood streets get paved in a certain year, but the emphasis is on streets with low OCI numbers. Anything below 70 is what Arsenault called “a D or an F grade” – and there are plenty of them out there.

Thursday, the City Commission will consider a plan for the current fiscal year, ending next June 30, to pave about eight miles of neighborhood streets in four different neighborhoods: Tunbridge, Pine Ridge, the section of Towne Acres south of Wilmar, and Westwood (in Gray). Arsenault said that’s roughly double the mileage that has been occurring. Those neighborhood streets all have OCI ratings in the low 40s to mid-60s.

Arterial, collector and “feeder” streets being considered for approval include Walnut Street from Roan to University Parkway and from State of Franklin Road to the railroad underpass; Carter Sells Road from Walnut to McKinley Road; South Roan Street from State of Franklin to Lafe Cox Drive; and sections of LP Auer Road, McKinley Road, Antioch Road, Silverdale Drive and Perma R Road.

To see a list of proposed work through fiscal 2018, visit

The entire $3 million is slated for contracted paving. Summers-Taylor Inc. is nearing the end of a three-year run and is recommended bidder for the new contract. Arsenault said the proposal, which comes with unit prices per ton of asphalt and includes installation, has prices that are close to the contract that’s ending.

To handle the increased work by the contractor, Public Works plans to shift more of its staff to prep work.

Before Summers-Taylor crews get busy repaving, City Public Works crews, and often Water/Sewer crews as well, get into neighborhoods and prep them for paving. But before all that, management is constantly reviewing pending utility projects, both public and private, to avoid having to repeat paving work.

If a private utility company is six months or a year away from conducting some work that will disturb a street on the repaving list, that work may get bumped back.

“In those situations, if we can delay repaving that particular road long enough to get them in there to fix their underground stuff before we repave, that ensures that somebody’s not going to come back in and cut a newly paved road,” Peterson said.

Regardless of particular projects getting bumped up or down the list due to those factors, the many miles of streets long overdue for resurfacing will be getting attention on a much-accelerated schedule.

Arsenault said the change for the better will take time to yield significant dividends.

“We’d like the ratings to be in the 70 to 80 range,” he said. “Having the additional funding without doubt helps us accomplish that, but it’s going to take some time to catch it up.”



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