- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

D.C. Council members, complaining that Mayor Anthony A. Williams proposed 2002 budget diverts millions of dollars in road repair funds to administrative costs, said they plan to redirect most of the money for paving roads and fixing potholes.

"We said last year that starting this year, we were going to set aside most of the rights-of-way fees to fund local road repair," said at-large council member Carol Schwartz, Republican, who chairs the council Committee on Public Works and the Environment.

"The mayor has tried to supplant the entire operation by putting that money towards the operation of the transportation division. Thank goodness we caught that bit of creative financing," Mrs. Schwartz said.

Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini disagreed with the committee´s positions, saying money also would be available for road projects under the mayor´s plan.

"We were going to borrow $37 million in bond funds for road repair," he said. "The council didn´t want to rely on borrowing and using direct funds. We will probably come up with a combination of both. Everyone recognizes that this is an important issue for the District."

Last year, the District recommended instituting fees that charge utility companies rent for the underground space they use for cables and pipes. The rights-of-way fees, as they are called, were projected to raise more than $30 million in local revenue annually.

The council and the mayor agreed that the fees collected in the first year should go into the city´s general fund. However, council members say they expressed their intent clearly to use the majority of the money this budget cycle to fund road repairs through a special fund — the Local Roads Construction and Maintenance Fund.

Instead, the mayor allocated $23 million from the fees to cover "bureaucratic" costs of the city´s transportation division, council members said. That in turn allowed him to free up $23 million in local money for other departments.

Through some creative financing of its own, Mrs. Schwartz added, the committee staff was able to find money and return the $23 million to the fund while leaving other agency budgets alone.

"It was very difficult, but we found additional revenue," she said. "I wish the mayor had done this rather than I."

The committee´s adjustment is expected to be approved Tuesday when the council votes on the budget.

Since the financial crisis in the 1990s, road repair has increasingly been neglected. The mayor has described the road conditions as a "tale of two cities" in testimony to the council, detailing how 73 percent of the 400 miles of roads maintained by the federal government scored good or excellent on the pavement index measuring smoothness and quality. Federally maintained roads include larger arterial streets such as New York, Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues. The federal government spends $250,000 per mile repairing these streets annually.

It´s a different story for District-maintained roads, he noted. Fifty percent of the 600 miles of residential and smaller streets scored fair or poor on the pavement index. The District spends $8,333 per mile on these streets annually. Little wonder potholes continue to plague the city as streets remain unpaved, city officials said.

Mr. Tangherlini said the city has continued to make progress filling those "pesky holes," closing 1,206 out of the 1,397 potholes from March to April.

"The time we receive a complaint to the time we fill them has been reduced to six days from nine," he said. "We have added 20 new people to our unit and have started using another pothole mixture that brings a 7 percent success rate up to 83 percent. That is the key to winning the battle."

The department receives about 40 pothole complaints per day during its heavy season, he said. Ten crews usually are working around the city to fill potholes.

"We are on our way to meeting our goal of filling potholes within 72 hours of being reported," he said. "But ideally, we want to fill them even before that."




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