Earlier this month Troy Schulte, the KCMO city manager, officially proposed an $800m general obligation bond to the city council. As proposed the city will use bond proceeds over the course of 20 years to repair and upgrade the city’s infrastructure.
Over a series of several blog posts we will outline our plan for how this bond funding could be used to make Kansas City a better place to walk and bike. In this post we will focus on our second recommendation.
Recommendation 2: No New Roads – “Fix it First”
It is likely that we will soon see a strong push for the construction of new streets in undeveloped parts of the city. The promise of new development can make a compelling case for new infrastructure investment. Each new house or apartment building is a new source of property tax. If the new development spurs population growth it could bring more sales tax revenue thanks to increased demand for goods and services. And more residents in KCMO means more e-tax revenue.
The economics of this is shaky. There is strong evidence that infrastructure spending as a development tool is poor economic policy, particularly when it comes to constructing overbuilt roads to lure low-density suburban development.
A better approach would be to focus on the more than 2400 miles of existing streets (6400 lane miles). Let’s take a look at some of the current challenges the city faces maintaining its existing infrastructure:
- Pavement quality receives low marks in the citizen satisfaction survey year over year.
- The street preservation budget is chronically underfunded – According the the city’s 5 year capital improvement plan, 800 miles of streets are in need of resurfacing but only budgets for 190 miles per year.
- Crosswalks typically fade long before painting crews bring them back to vibrancy on their multi-year rotation.
- Each street in the city will only see the brushes of a street sweeper once per year.
- Without dedicated funding, implementation of the city’s adopted bike plan is years behind schedule.
- Neighborhoods have to wait years for effective and inexpensive safety measures like road diets and traffic calming.
- KCMO is under a mandate from Department of Justice because to fix over 2100 missing or inadequate sidewalk curb ramps that are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
But perhaps the most telling is the estimated $1 billion in backlogged sidewalk needs. An exact figure is unclear because they city only has a ballpark idea of the total number of sidewalk miles it owns. The conditions of those sidewalks is far murkier. Citizen satisfaction in sidewalks trails that of our peer cities by a significant margin because only about half of all streets even have them. And many of the sidewalks that do exist are in a constant state of disrepair.
Then when sidewalks do get fixed, under current policy, the adjacent property owner foots the bill. A homeowner on a corner lot could end up with a $10,000 lien whether their property is worth $30,000 or $3 million.
Alas, a plan is afoot to change this the sidewalk issue. A working group convened by Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner – on which BikeWalkKC is represented – has been meeting regularly for several months working on a plan to change the sidewalk policy. The forthcoming SidewalksKC report will inform the final outcome of this sidewalks policy working group.
But a fix to the sidewalk policy issue is unlikely if a major funding source isn’t identified.
The city simply cannot afford to build more roads because it cannot afford to maintain what it has. And literally 100% of KCMO residents live on existing infrastructure. And they deserve to have safe, accessible streets. Let’s use the G.O. Bond to push for that.