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Council okays 4 road projects for 2021; most beat up streets not among them

By Ralph Echtinaw

City Council approved $128,006 for this year’s street resurfacing project, but residents on the most dilapidated streets will have to keep waiting.

Streets to be resurfaced are:

North Union (Hubbard) from Giddings to city limit.

Whitney Place from Michigan Avenue to West State.

North Main from Prospect to northern city limits.

Union from I&K north to city limits.

Central Asphalt of Mt. Pleasant was the only bidder.

Bids were also solicited from Ace Paving of Saginaw (declined to bid), Reith-Riley of Lansing (agreed to bid but didn’t) and Rite-Way Asphalt of Shepherd (declined to bid).

Central Asphalt’s bid of $28,006 is $17,000 under DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott’s estimate. Rich O’Dell of Central Asphalt said the attractive price was, in part, due to most of his work being in Isabella and Gratiot counties this summer, Abbott said.

The price for asphalt is good this year, too. “I haven’t seen $58 a ton in quite a few years,” Abbott said.

Councilman George Kubin quipped: “We better do it now before inflation gets ahold of it.”

Central Asphalt is contractually obligated to finish the work by July 30.

As for worn out streets like Pine, Delaware, Bankson, et. al., there are many reasons why they continue to be neglected.

“We have a large amount of roads that are going on double their normal life cycle,” Abbott said via email. “This is largely due to a very bad financial downturn when the Velsicol chemical plant closed, reducing tax revenue. And then the state cut our revenue sharing by large amounts in the early 2000s. This crippled the city’s ability to spend much on road work.

“Another problem is that the pavement is not the only thing that is in poor condition. We have water and sewer mains that are also at the end of their lifecycle and need to be replaced. It doesn’t make sense to pave a road and then come back and tear it out to replace underground utilities. It is a multiyear endeavor to put together complete reconstruct projects like we did last year on Maple Street. (And will do this year on State Street between South Main and Michigan Avenue.)

The average life of an asphalt road is 25 years if nothing is done to extend its useful life. But if cracks are sealed and the pavement is resurfaced at some point the road can last more than 45 years, Abbott said. It’s more cost effective over time that way, too.

“The basic concept is to use the appropriate fix at the appropriate time to extend the life of the road as much as possible,” Abbott said.

Some of the city’s streets have gotten so bad that nothing short of total reconstruction is cost effective. But that involves concomitant sewer and water work and can cost more than $1 million.

The amount of traffic a particular road gets plays a big part in determining if money will be spent on improving the surface, too.

North Main, for example, gets much more traffic than, say, Delaware Street. The traffic counts are high, and semis are up and down it every day. The same can be said for North Union Street and Hubbard. 

“With the heavy traffic, age and condition of these roads if we do not perform work on them now they will be rubble within a couple of years forcing us into a must-do reconstruction project without funding,” Abbott said.

Work on that category of street can be paid for mostly with Michigan Department of Transportation grants. “This is how we have done all of Michigan Avenue, Corinth Street, Olive Road and now West State Street this summer,” Abbott said. 

However, those grants are only available to St. Louis every three or four years. “It is kind of like playing a card game over many years,” Abbott said. “You have to plan when to play the funding cards that you have to your best advantage.”

But the city is getting closer to being able to do the sewer and water work on Pine, Delaware, Bankson, et. al., thanks to an ongoing project to increase sewer and water rates charged to businesses and homeowners by 10 percent a year for six or seven years. (The fourth such increase goes into effect later this year.) That money will allow the city to sell bonds to fund water and sewer work.

To meet in person (or not)

Tuesday’s meeting was held online using Zoom, and Councilman Roger Collison wondered aloud when in-person meetings might resume.

He wasn’t supported to any great extent, as the other councilmen seem content to continue meeting online, which is legally allowed through the end of the year (thanks to state legislation and Gratiot County commissioners declaring a state of emergency that runs through the end of the year).

Nothing was said about accommodating residents who don’t have an internet connection and want to attend a council meeting.

Councilmen agreed to meet remotely again on June 1. As for meetings after that council is playing it by ear. “Let’s do a wait and see,” said Councilman Bill Leonard.

After Collison broached the topic of in-person meetings, Councilman Tom Reed asked if people could be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to attend a meeting without a mask.

Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. said no one can be legally required to provide proof of vaccination.

Reed persisted: “They don’t have to tell us but I’d like to see us ask.”

Ramereiz went on to say it’s against the law to even ask if a person has been vaccinated. “We have no right to ask what their medical history is,” he said.

Reed, by the way, is the only candidate for mayor this year and will succeed incumbent Mayor James Kelly (who is not seeking re-election) in November. (Unless a write-in candidate prevails.)

Councilman Kubin is running for re-election. The only other council candidates are Elizabeth Upton, 36, owner of Uptown Treasures, and Don Dean, 72, who finished last among four candidates two years ago.

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