Opinion

Time for Auburn to take care of its roads | Klaas

All roads don't lead to Auburn, but over the ones that do it can be a bumpy, aggravating ride.

Not exactly the ideal welcome mat for new residents and potential business.

To fix the worn road problem as soon as possible, local leaders have come up with a creative, quick-response plan for Auburnites who use the aging streets frequently to reach work, school and play.

Commuters welcome a smoother ride, but at what cost? Taxpayers – homeowners and proprietors alike – are wary of another increase to their monthly mortgage.

It really comes down to this: affordably pay for local roads with local money now, or pay more to repair eroding roads with "outside" funding sources much later.

Without any guarantee of federal or state help, the cities within the Green River Valley are left to fend for themselves. Cities, like growing Auburn, are at a literal crossroads. Either fix the problem now by tapping into locally-driven funding solutions, or wait considerably longer for an improved economic picture.

Optimistic forecasters expect commerce to rebound, revenue to pick up, and federal and state grants to become more available to repair local infrastructure.

Auburn is not so sure.

For example, recent reconstruction of a worn, unstable section of the West Valley Highway required $4 million in state grant money. Auburn waited 16 years to get the project done.

In the meantime, many of Auburn's familiar roads and streets will continue to deteriorate before getting better.

And that is the worry of Citizens to Keep Auburn Moving, backers of a $59 million bond measure that would repair 31 miles of aging commuter and freight corridors. The Auburn Transportation Benefit District earlier this year unanimously agreed to put the bond to the test. Voters will decide its fate in Tuesday's special election.

The measure is the culminating work of the Arterial Streets Task Force, which labored in partnership with the City to determine how to address the problem of deteriorating roads and streets within the city.

"This is our problem. Roads are a major thermometer of 'how do you care about your community?' " said Terry Davis, co-chair of Citizens to Keep Auburn Moving. "Right now, with our roads kind of being in a 'patch-the-roof' type mode because that's all the money that we have, it looks like we don't care."

Which bothers the people in City Hall. It also rankles Nancy Wyatt, COO of the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I specifically had a business that is actually locating here ask me, 'It doesn't seem like this community cares," Wyatt said. "I explained it to them ... and to others ... that they need to understand that our community really does take care of itself."

To tackle this problem, local leaders are asking for support.

Major spots need repair

Among the targeted, major repair spots are B Street Northeast and 37th Street Northwest, a portion of truck-worn West Valley Highway and roads that lead to and come down from Lea and West Hills.

The front-loaded, stair-step-tiered bond calls for all of the work to be done in 10 years, most of it in the first five.

Auburn businesses would cover two-thirds of the repair cost, homeowners would cover the rest. Make no mistake, businesses would bear the cost, beginning for about $506 a year for the small property owner. The average homeowner, on the other hand, would pay about the cost of one tank of gas per year for the first five years of the project, and a couple tanks of gas in years 6 through 15.

During the first five years of street improvements, the average $250,000 home would see a $4-$8 per month increase in year five ($36-$96 per year) and average monthly impacts of $8-$9 ($96-$113 per year) in years 6-15. As the bonds mature and are paid off, the average annual impact to a homeowner steadily declines until it is eventually retired.

This avenue was chosen over vehicle tolls, annual motor vehicle fees, sales tax or excess levies.

Still, as even Davis acknowledges, it will be difficult to persuade all taxpayers to support the bond, especially those who live check to check.

"Anytime you talk taxes and property taxes, it's a tough sell," he said. "My hope is that the majority of them who drive these roads every single day ... will see there is a need. This is a reasonable, affordable option."

Do nothing and the problem worsens, roads crumbling until they have to be rebuilt from the foundation up. Attacking the cracking, rough surfaces now, Davis says, would prevent more costly repairs later.

Some industrial-area intersections would be restored with longer-life concrete rather than asphalt-based treatment, Davis said, to better handle the stop-and-go pounding of heavy truck traffic.

"We are trying to be smart, reasonable with the investment," he said.

Not everyone drives a heavy truck and is therefore primarily responsible for the decaying shipment corridors, but residents, schools and businesses depend on them for the delivery of goods and services. Bond supporters remind taxpayers that they are more connected to these roads than they realize.

The bond measure is a good deal, supporters say. It represents a partnership among citizens and businesses looking for an immediate reward for local money well spent.

"This issue didn't come up yesterday. Some people may feel that way," Davis added. "The time is critical now because those streets still have a good base, but later on ... "

The time is now, not later, to mend major roads in Auburn.

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