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Wichita to spend $16 million to catch up street, utility maintenance

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, at 7:01 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, at 2:48 p.m.

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Wichita will invest about $16 million next year to continue catching up on deferred street and utility maintenance.

The city is going to spend an additional $8 million in 2014 on street repairs, specifically an initiative by contracted outside crews to repair thermal cracks – those inch-wide, curb-to-curb cracks in residential streets that bounce cars all across Wichita. The 2014 city budget calls for almost another $11 million for internal pavement maintenance and salaries.

Another $8.2 million will be spent updating sewer and water lines through the city’s capital improvements program or, as public works director Alan King puts it, “trying to get closer to the industry standards for replacement.” The 2014 budget has another $7.5 million in the city’s sewer fund and $51 million in the water fund.

The 2014 expenditures were approved this week as part of the council’s consent budget, where a bundle of items receive one vote without any discussion.

But Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner referenced the extra maintenance money at the end of the meeting, saying it’s important for the public to note the city’s redoubled commitment.

“I think it is important for the citizens to know we are spending some significant dollars to improve hundreds of streets, and water and sewer repairs that are overdue,” Meitzner said. “A commitment to the basic functions of city government is to assure police, fire, roads, water and sewer, and this $16-plus million is a step in the right direction.”

Contract street repair crews will fan out across most of the city next year, King said, to start work on those cracks, formed when street surfaces expand and contract over several years of heating and cooling.

About 300 lane miles of city street will be covered in the project, King said.

“It’s not something that just happened,” he said. “It’s been over a number of years, several freeze and heat cycles. It hasn’t been a repair that the city has focused upon in the past.”

About a third of the city’s residential streets will be covered in the project, King said.

“We’re doing this with the idea of something observable improving the ride,” he said. “We want to show how we’re putting some emphasis back into the ride.”

The sewer and water line replacements are the start of a big catch-up program by public works, King said. Wichita lags far behind other cities and industry standards in how often the lines are replaced.

Mayor Carl Brewer referenced that problem in January in his 2013 State of the City address, saying the city was $2.1 billion in arrears on deferred utility maintenance.

About $5.4 million will be spent in 2014 replacing main sewer lines; about $2.08 million will go to replace old water mains.

“We’ll identify water lines that are coordinated with road construction projects where we’d have to relocate or move them, and where there are those in bad shape we will kill two birds with one stone,” King said.

“And we’ll identify pipelines with a history of water main breaks. If there’s a lot on a particular part of the system, or if the lines are undersized without the pressure and flow we try to maintain, or in the case of sewer mains where video cameras show us structural integrity problems, we’ll try to replace them.”

The industry standard for water main replacement is a little less than 5 percent of a city’s system annually, King said. Wichita dropped under 1 percent before rising now back up to around 2 percent.

For sewer mains, the industry standard nationwide is 3 percent of the system annually; Wichita will be at 2.4 percent in 2014.

“We’re ramping a lot closer,” King said. “It’s a huge goal of ours to address some of the deferred maintenance.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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