- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

The District of Columbia will spend up to $12 million to begin resurfacing at least 200 blocks of streets that have been ravaged by utility cuts, potholes and neglect, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday.
"The problem with the streets is not potholes. The problem is not even road cuts. The problem is that roads need to be completely resurfaced," the mayor said, adding that some contracts for the road repairs will be awarded today.
In a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mr. Williams also said he will seek to "stiffen" penalties for graffiti and littering "quality of life" offenses that scar the city and can lead to more serious crime.
Mr. Williams said he will declare city streets in a state of emergency. Under the emergency procurement powers of the financial control board, three private contracts will be awarded today, and he will execute other emergency contracts tomorrow.
"We're going to be using $11 million, $12 million that was in the budget to pave 200, 300 blocks of the city," he said. "We've got to go out and pave whole sections of the streets.
"We're talking about this number of blocks [being repaved] by the end of the year … if the rain permits."
The money will be taken from the National Capital Infrastructure Fund, a federal pool of money created for the District in 1997 for transportation projects, the mayor's office said.
The D.C. Department of Public Works will oversee the road repairs. Though DPW already has met its end-of-summer goal of repairing more than 150 blocks of potholes, it still has about 1,700 reported potholes yet to fill.
"The idea is to get where we need to be, not just patch the potholes, but fixing the streets," said Dan Tangherlini, acting transportation director for DPW.
The city has about 1,100 miles of roads, 700 of which are local, and the emergency work will repair about 25 or 30 miles, Mr. Tangherlini said, adding that it is an important start.
"These roads haven't had virtually any of this kind of maintenance in the last five or six years … since the financial crisis," he said. "There is a condition that is threatening enough to property damage and people's safety."
Federal authorities have scrutinized the public works agency's oversight of contracted road repairs.
In May 1999, a DPW official agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and bribery charges for receiving cash and gifts from city road contractors in an overbilling scheme that cost taxpayers $225,000.
The plea agreement and an ongoing federal investigation of DPW and city road contractors were reported in June.
In other remarks yesterday, Mr. Williams noted that graffiti has been a priority of his administration, which recently has become lax in tackling the problem.
"I think we need to stiffen the sanctions for litter, we need to stiffen the sanctions for graffiti," Mr. Williams said, adding that he will work with police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and the D.C. Council to reduce the tolerance for petty crimes, including graffiti and litter.
"Those are quality of life issues that are important," he said.
Graffiti vandals can face up to $5,000 in fines and a year in jail. There are no penalties for littering.
The mayor's new stance on grafitti differs from comments he made shortly after taking office in January 1999, when he said he would not commit to strict arrest and prosecution of graffiti vandals. Instead, citing a program in Philadelphia, he said vandals often gave up if the city removed their work quickly.
The city's budget for this fiscal year set aside $227,000 for fighting graffiti. In May 1999, the city spent $170,000 for two anti-graffiti trucks equipped with high-powered hoses and liquid solvent that removes paint in minutes.
Despite the city's efforts, properties along Metro's Red Line continue to be covered with graffiti. One setback is that DPW has no authority to erase graffiti on private property without the owner's permission.
"We have legislation before the council that would give the city right of entry on private property, after sufficient time of notice to the owner," the mayor said.
Mr. Williams said he hopes council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Public Works Committee, can get the legislation out of committee and passed.
Mrs. Schwartz was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment.
The mayor said the city also will bring in 20 new street sweepers in the next few months and post a schedule of street cleanings on the city Web site (www.dc.gov).

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