The JS reported today on the slow, slow pace of city street repairs.
City streets are in awful shape, but are in terrific shape when compared to county parkways and roads. Some of each are growing dangerous, especially to people on bikes, scooters and motorcycles. If we are going to get serious about transportation alternatives, we at least have to have infrastructure good enough so those trying to cut their fossil fuel use don't risk serious injury by hitting a giant pothole. (PS to drivers: bike lanes are for bikes!)
The JS story, though, missed a huge factor in the declining state of city streets -- people are turning down needed projects all over town because of the city's whopping special assessment charges. The assessments were doubled in 2002, and a typical resurfacing job that cost a abutting property owner $1,250 in special assessments before the change now costs $2,500, according to information presented last month to the Common Council's Public Works Committee.
City Budget Director Mark Nicolini assured the committee that Mayor Tom Barrett would be open to lower assessment charges -- here's hoping Barrett proposes reducing the charges himself and doesn't make aldermen try to figure out how to adjust the budget to accommodate them. (Unfortunately, the city can't count on the state to help out in the form of local road aids, as the state would rather fund obscenely expensive freeway projects, as Jim Rowen and the Daily Reporter point out.)
The JS also reported today that the Barrett administration has a plan to greatly increase the pace of road repairs in the city, but failed to mention that the plan relies on huge increases in special assessment collections and remarkably inflation-free road project costs. Aldermen at last month's meeting were pretty skeptical about it all.
Yup, the special assessments should be lower -- a $2,500 charge is simply a back-breaker for too many Milwaukee residents. The pace of major local road projects also should be speeded up. Unfortunately, these may be contradictory goals that will take more than action by the mayor and Common Council to achieve -- the state and federal governments will also have to do their parts.