Keeping roadways smooth and free of potholes is a never-ending job. While the Town of Marana is wrapping up a pavement preservation program that has been in effect for the last six years, they’re already working on a new one with updated information for the next five.
“Pavement is actually the largest infrastructure asset that we manage in public works,” Public Works Director Mohammad El-Ali told the town council at their meeting last Tuesday, Sept. 3.
The town has over 560 lane miles of asphalt to maintain, and the public works department prioritizes the roads in best condition first. They perform minor treatments like crack, fog and chip sealing to preserve the condition of the road before it deteriorates any further. For brand new roads, they apply a treatment within the first year of its life.
Then, staff focus on roadways in fair and poor conditions. The town will delay or minimize the need for a total reconstruction of roads as much as possible. It’s a last resort because it’s expensive to do, and creates inconvenient construction detours for motorists.
Crack sealing costs about $7,000 per lane mile, fog sealing costs twice that amount and chip sealing costs about $49,000 per lane mile. Performing mill and overlay—where crews remove and reapply just the top layer of asphalt—costs nearly $127,000 per lane mile, and a total reconstruction costs $295,000 per lane mile.
The Overall Condition Index, which is a 0-100 point scale that measures the overall quality that a roadway provides to the motorist, is 73 in Marana. El-Ali said they are on track to be at 76 OCI by the end of the current pavement preservation program. The national average is between 60 and 65 OCI.
El-Ali informed the council that just 2.5 percent of Marana’s roads have an OCI of less than 40, which is considered poor. Nationally, any amount under 10 percent is good and under 5 percent is excellent.
In preparation for their new pavement preservation program, which will begin in 2020 and end in 2025, the Town of Marana recently partnered with Infrastructure Management Services to acquire a state-of-the-art pavement condition assessment van, which objectively assessed the pavement condition of every street in the town’s boundaries using computer technology.
The new data is being put into the town’s Cartegraph database, which will help prioritize which roads to treat.
Marana Mayor Ed Honea told Tucson Local Media he was proud of the above-average quality of Marana’s roads, compared to surrounding communities like Tucson or unincorporated Pima County. He said the town treats every road at least once every five years.
“You’re not going to get much higher than 80 [OCI],” he said. “Getting to 90 or 100 is really unrealistic. Maybe if you did every road every year, but you just can’t because of the cost.”
In order for the town to maintain their 76 OCI, El-Ali said they’ll need $3.5 million each year to perform pavement preservation and road reconstruction.
The pavement preservation budget is constant at $1.25 million annually. Some years, public works receives extra funding from the capital improvement program budget, but it varies from year to year. So there are gaps that will need to be addressed if they want to get to $3.5 million each year. Those gaps vary anywhere from $500,000 to over $2 million.
The town has a few different funding options. They could generate funds through government-imposed tax on the residents, but Honea said that’s unlikely.
The town could also look toward outside sources to fill the gap. They could apply for grants to provide the funding for the roadwork, but Honea indicated that the town would be better off using their own money to get the job done.
Referencing the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant program, he said grant money can be useful for these types of projects, but if they use the money on roads they can’t use it for other areas of need in services that the town provides.
So instead, Honea would rather use the flexibility of the general fund to ensure roadways stay in top condition.
“Wages and benefits and vehicles—most of that stuff is pretty constant,” Honea said. “But there are capital projects within the town, such as roads or parks or upgrading wells or whatever, and a lot of times if they are adequate, you’ll wait an extra year because you have a more pressing need elsewhere If there’s a bigger need for roads one year, then maybe we don’t do as much with parks. There’s flexibility to move those monies around. You kind of take the priority.”
The Highway User Revenue Fund, which provides the town with a portion of money collected by the state government, covers some of the pavement preservation costs, as well as things like street and landscape maintenance, signs, street markings, traffic signals, ADA ramps and sidewalks, equipment replacements and more.
Last year, that fund provided about $2.4 million to the town. Honea said they will use some of that to fund the pavement preservation program as well.
“We’re proud of where we are and what we’re doing and we try to keep the roads in good shape,” Honea said. “The budget’s already been done for this year, but even looking at next year, it [the pavement preservation program] educates in more detail for council members and myself and the general public, as to what it takes to keep us at that state.”