Covington is home to 72 miles of paved streets. And, as a regional hub of sorts, it is not only our residents and businesses relying on our streets every day, but so are commuters and those from neighboring cities.
As your mayor and also a resident, I am painfully aware of our struggles to fund maintenance and improvements of our existing streets. As pavement conditions are declining, so is funding. Our infrastructure is aging and resources from the state and federal levels are unstable or just not available anymore. Covington also inherited a street system built to rural standards that need major upgrading to handle the growth and traffic.
It hurts when I hear comments like “the city just doesn’t care about our streets” or “it’s clearly not their priority”. As your mayor, I do take it personally as it is the city’s job to preserve the community’s investments like its streets. I want to be clear, it IS the city’s priority to take care of what we have. In 2018, we spent $1,278,531 on street operations and maintenance, and we expect to spend more this year. But even though it is a priority doesn’t mean we have the funds to address it the way it needs to be addressed.
So, how should our streets be addressed? Proper maintenance is what makes our streets last longer. If repair or overlay is done while a street is still in good condition, it will continue to function properly. We need to protect it before it is beyond repair. Streets beyond repair are extremely expensive to reconstruct and, without funding to do so, those streets will continue to worsen when maintaining them is no longer viable.
The city has been lucky to receive grants and legislative appropriations for new and reconstruction projects this year. By the end of 2019 alone, we will have spent about $4,511,000 on street capital projects like the next phase of the SR 516 widening project from Jenkins Creek to 185th, beginning the Covington Connector/204th extension, construction of the 164th pedestrian improvement project, and completion of the 194th/Timberlane Boulevard overlay. In total, and mostly with non-city funds, the city will be spending approximately $36 million on the State Route 516 widening project and the Covington Connector project through 2020. Unfortunately though, these types of grants are not available for street operations and maintenance.
The city’s 2019 Street Fund budget for operations and maintenance is about $1,400,000, but that doesn’t mean we can go spread $1.4 million of asphalt on our streets. The Street Fund also covers a multitude of other things. When we talk about spending money on street operations and maintenance, we are also talking about signs, street lights, traffic signals, sidewalks, curbs, striping, landscaping, ramps, crosswalks, wages, fuel, snow and ice removal, and more.
To break it down further and to give a better idea of how your streets operations and maintenance is funded, in 2019, the Street Fund is being funded by approximately $323,854 transferred in from the General Fund; $330,000 from the TBD’s (Transportation Benefit District) $20 car tab fee; $259,000 from cable franchise fees; $457,710 from state shared revenues like the gas tax; and $28,000 from miscellaneous things like traffic concurrency and investment earnings.
We work hard to make sure the funds we do have are spent wisely and on the street projects that benefit our community the most. But, our current funds are not nearly enough to support our street maintenance needs. I often hear from residents that ask “why not use other funds on streets?” Other funds that are not being used for other city ongoing operations are either one-time revenues or restricted funds to be spent on other work. Neither are sustainable for street maintenance.
When it comes down to it, I want to ensure our residents that the city is taking our Street Fund predicament seriously. As you can see, we spend a good chunk of money on street projects, both for capital projects and for street operations and maintenance needs. Additionally, we are constantly trying to be creative and proactive with funding and budgeting.