March 23, 2014

Arlington maintenance sales tax up for renewal

The quarter-cent sales tax has generated more than $123.6 million in revenue since it was first approved in 2002, city officials say.

Maintaining Arlington’s 3,000-lane-mile network of streets is an expensive, never-ending task.

Sections of older streets with broken curbs, potholes and low spots can be remade nearly as good as new, pushing a more costly rebuilding project off to the future. But even newer streets need frequent attention so that minor issues, such as cracks, don’t turn into bigger problems.

Since 2002, Arlington has used a quarter-cent sales tax that has generated $123.6 million to smooth out bumpy streets.

But the street maintenance sales tax is set to expire this year unless voters renew it May 10; early voting begins April 28.

Since the last election in 2010, the tax has generated $50 million for the maintenance and repair of nearly 464 lane miles, according to city records.

Between 90 percent and 95 percent of all street maintenance is paid for through the designated tax instead of through the city’s general fund, public works officials said.

Without that revenue, the city would be able to make some repairs — filling cracks and potholes — but not the major maintenance that extends a roadway’s lifespan, said Bill Bateman, the Public Works Department’s field operations manager.

“Maintenance is less expensive than a rebuild,” Bateman said. “Over time, the streets would continue to deteriorate at a much faster rate.”

The city can use the sales tax revenue to repair or resurface any street in existence at the time of the election. Repairs can include fixing broken curbs and installing new curb ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but does not include adding new sidewalks or street lights, said Mindy Carmichael, Public Works engineering operations manager.

According to the most recent survey, 320 lane miles — or 11 percent of Arlington’s streets — are rated in the worst condition. Those are the streets the city tackles first, Bateman said. Public Works is currently spending $5.7 million on major maintenance for sections of 36 such streets, such as Park Row Drive between Center and Collins streets.

It would cost an estimated $58 million to repair the worst of the city’s streets. However, the city doesn’t put 100 percent of its street maintenance sales tax revenue each year toward the worst streets because it also has to perform less extensive maintenance to keep other roadways in a targeted subdivision in good shape, Carmichael said.

Even brand new streets can get cracks, she said.

“Crack seal is very important. Once the water gets to the subgrade, you’ve lost the battle. It will erode it and undermine it and then you have subgrade failures,” Carmichael said. “You can’t fix those other than digging the whole thing out.”

Arlington has recently been working to resurface a rough section of Road to Six Flags Drive near the Six Flags Over Texas theme park, which will open daily in May but is already open during weekends.

“We appreciate the city of Arlington addressing the street improvements near our parks and in the entertainment district. We know that there are many needs within the city and we are fortunate that they made the street enhancements in this area a priority,” Jim Brothers, Experience Arlington board chairman wrote to the Star-Telegram. “We know that our guests will enjoy the fresh streets once they are completed.”

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