Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pothole Season Truly and Deeply Sucks

Pothole angling is a favorite summer pastime for the youth of Bend.

The City of Bend does many things badly, and road maintenance is one of the things it hardly does at all.

We're barely into the winter here in Bend, and the local streets and roads are in the worst shape I've ever seen them. Every heavily traveled arterial resembles a shell-pocked World War I battlefield. If you drive over one at any speed in excess of 10 miles per hour, you're probably going to have to make an appointment with your dentist for a couple of new crowns.

Things weren't always this bad. More than 25 years ago, when we first moved here, the streets were kept in pretty good repair. The city even plowed the snow off them -- at least the major ones.

So what went wrong? There's a one-word answer: GROWTH.

Back when Bend was a small town, the city's finances were pretty stable. It took in enough money in property taxes to perform basic municipal services. The potholes were patched, the snow was plowed, the schools stayed open, the water flowed through the water mains and the poop flowed through the sewers.

Then Bend took off in a frenzy of balls-out, hell-for-leather growth, expanding in all directions. Suddenly there were many more miles of streets and water mains and thousands more kids in the classrooms.

SDCs -- Systems Development Charges -- levied on developers are supposed to pay for the new infrastructure that growth requires. But they're set so low that they cover only a fraction of the costs. And they don't pay anything toward the maintenance of the roads, water mains and sewer lines once they're in place -- nor do they contribute anything toward the public school system.

The city got away with it for a few years by running what was essentially a Ponzi scheme, counting on new growth to generate the revenue needed to pay for present growth. But all Ponzi schemes collapse sooner or later, and when the real estate bubble popped, Bend's did.

Add to that the special problems created by Bend's embrace of sprawl -- development spread out over a wide area requires more miles of roads, sewers and water mains than more compact development -- and one can see why the city is now utterly and totally fucked. Municipal services of all kinds are worse in Bend now that it's an "affluent" city of 86,000 than they were in 1985, when it was a poor town of about 26,000.

If you're fortunate enough to live in a place that is NOT Bend and some local politician tries to sell you a line of bullshit about how growth will mean prosperity for your town, bring him to Bend, throw him into one of our potholes and shovel asphalt over him. You'll be doing both yourself and us a favor.


Bend Economy Man said...

H. Bruce, you must have been living in the right part of town 25 years ago. My westside street was only partly paved and it was less than 500 yards from the Westside Cafe. I used to deliver papers containing your column on numerous streets less than a mile from downtown that weren't paved.

You also aren't remembering the infamous "chip seal" that occurred sometime in the mid to late '80s. The City couldn't afford to repave a number of potholed streets so they rented some machines that ground up the top layer of pavement, mixed it with molten asphalt and laid it back down. You crash your bike on that stuff and you are toast. I still have the scars to prove it.

H. Bruce Miller said...

They never plowed the side streets, but they at least plowed the main streets. I understand the policy now, for reasons of economy, is not to plow anything unless there's a snowfall of 6" or more. That's quite a bit of snow.

As for the chipsealing -- yes, I remember it. ODOT used to do it too. I remember driving what seemed like 20 miles on a freshly chipsealed state highway one time and ending up with the bottom half of my (almost new) car plastered with asphalt.

Anonymous said...

THAT'S the 'spirit' lad! ( photo ) lol

In this regard, Bend is neither a "leader" in malfeasance of office nor alone...

Local governments all across the land are now reneging on the VERY services they were -created- to provide for! in K' Falls I'm told by locals that the city council ( those GENIUSES! ) rely on loooong range weather reports as to whether or 'not' they're going to budget for snow removal!

Consequently you find yourself driving around MAIN arteries w/ citizen-powered, traction tire-driven BARRIERS in between lanes of traffic! Meaning you can only change lanes when you encounter an intersection! ( And do so At Your OWN Risk! )

No idea if it's that bad in 'Bend' but it wouldn't surprise if a similar ostrich approach weren't taken?

Anonymous said...

Just on a personal note:

In the past I've made mention that one of my 'experiments' this Winter was to -seriously- reduce alcohol consumption just to gauge the effects on S.A.D?

I'm pleased to share with consumption cut down to a mere trickle, yes, much less depressing! The slight lift ( you choose fave micro ) you're bound to 'get' simply isn't worth even the slightest hangover.

Here's what I found surprising! It's not a matter of a 'hangover' per se`. Most posters old enough to complain about OR's weather are too old to really "tie one on" as we perhaps did in our youth.

The net impact is.., and Blackdog better able to explain than myself, but it's a matter of confronting the Suckation head on! Rather than putting on a liquid smile chipperness, I'm dealing w/ Suckiness in a sober fashion. I believe there has been study after study ( Iceland etc. ) that shows Alcohol + Dismal Weather = More depression! JFTR.