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curiousKC | Here’s The Price Tag to Fix All of Kansas City’s Roads Crunching the Numbers Behind the Pothole Plague

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Above image credit: Kansas Citian Frank Sereno posted a video on Facebook of his drive on 75th Street between Ward Parkway and Wornall Road last winter.
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3 minute read

Kansas City has 6,500 lane miles in the city street system. That’s enough to drive from New York City to Seattle and back, with miles to spare.

The city has a lot of work to do on its roads. Last winter’s pothole plague and constant roadwork make that obvious. It invites the question, what would it take to fix all of the roads in KC?

One of our readers wanted to know just that.

Tim Zook asked curiousKC: “How much would it cost the city every year to keep all the streets and bridges in good condition perpetually? Including reconstruction costs, etc.”

We reached out to the Public Works Department to find the answer to the question.

Financial Pothole

A recent report from the Public Works Department revealed that almost half of the city’s road system is classified with an Overall Condition Index of “poor” to “failed.” The scale is rated from 0-100, with 0-10 is considered failed, 10-25 is very poor, 25-40 is classified as poor and 40-55 as fair. The city’s road system as a whole is rated at 50.

The city’s goal is to get their number to 60, which would put the system in “good” standing on the scale (55-70). 

According to Public Works Public Information Officer Maggie Green, it would take a large amount of money to reach that number.

“To get us to 60, to get us to a good condition, would take $4 billion,” Green said. “To maintain us at that level, is roughly $200 million a year.”

The 2020-21 budget for Public Works’ Street Preservation program is $17 million (60% higher than the 2018-19 budget). Despite the increase, that figure is far short of what is needed to satisfy local citizens.

The 2019-20 Resident Satisfaction Survey showed that the maintenance of city streets, sidewalks and infrastructure were the top priority for KC citizens, and only 16.4% of people were satisfied with the current upkeep. Meanwhile, the Public Works Department calculated it would need $45 million or more just to maintain the system at its current level.

So how can the city get closer to a good rating without spending nearly 12 times its current budget?

“We know it’s not realistic to probably even double the street preservation budget, we would love that,” Green said. “So it’s a mix of working with the City Council little bit by little bit, if we can, get a couple more million dollars a year, that would be super helpful. But it’s also ensuring that we are using our program budget wisely and using it appropriately. I don’t want to say more money would solve all the problems, because I don’t think that’s quite it.”

Each year the Public Works Department comes up with 60 to 75 priority roads to upgrade based on a variety of factors such as their condition, traffic counts and number of potholes. They also filter their list based on what utility companies are doing. For example, if Spire is working on Linwood Boulevard, the program would avoid resurfacing that road. After finding out the budget, the department begins to narrow the list to 20 or 30 major roadway projects. 

This year the department has done resurfacing projects on Benton Boulevard, 39th Street and Grandview Road, among others. Projects on The Paseo, Troost Avenue and Cleveland Avenue are also scheduled for this year. About $16 million of the $17 million budget goes towards resurfacing. The schedule for road work can be found on the Street Preservation Program’s page on the city website. 

Bracing for Pothole Season

As the weather begins to cool, and snow begins to fall, potholes will start showing up on streets. 

Potholes form when water seeps into the cracks of pavement, then cold weather causes it to freeze and expand, creating potholes. The more freezing and thawing cycles a pothole sees, the bigger it grows.

Last year just over 19,000 pothole 311 request calls were made. After two difficult years of dealing with potholes, the department feels they are better prepared for this year’s pothole season.

“I don’t want to be naive and say we’re not going to have potholes this winter, we definitely are,” Green said. “From our perspective, our crews are more prepared. We have the 311 system set up for residents to report issues. We’re starting to track data and use that data to help with what roads we resurface come springtime.”

Jacob Douglas covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.

curiousKC is supported by

CommunityAmerica Credit Union

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