Computer system to track maintenance of city streets|[10/13/07]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 13, 2007

Taking the politics out of paving was a $180,000 endeavor, but Vicksburg officials say a computerized management system will also track the quality of city roads for years to come and make sure funds allocated to repairing them are used to maximum advantage.

Software will play a decisive role in the $6.7 million paving project moving forward with money from a $16.9 million bond issue in September. Comprising several phases, the paving initiative will target the city’s worst roads, ostensibly with limited influence from officials who may not always be impartial.

The system designed by the Vicksburg firm ERES Consultants has gathered dust for about five years since its purchase, awaiting a well-funded paving project to put it to the test. Officials have called the pavings financed by the bond the largest such initiative in the city’s history. Resurfacing is planned for the worse sections of at least 70 streets in Vicksburg.

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Developing the system involved assessing the condition of roads using specific criteria. Streets were divided into sections based on varying pavement conditions along the road. The condition of pavement in each section was rated on a scale of 1 to 100.

Public works director Bubba Rainer said the repaving project calls for all sections rated 0 to 51 to be repaved. Money left over will be spent on other roads in need. Rainer said how far the money will take the project is unknown, and that the high cost for asphalt, which is related to oil prices, could set things back.

Rainer said the pavement management system’s evaluation of road conditions is more comprehensive than assessments of city roads he made years ago and will track pavement deterioration based on current conditions.

In years gone by, city roads were evaluated differently.

“We went out and just rode around,” Rainer said. “We had four ways we graded them: we had ‘Good,’ ‘Bad,’ ‘Fair’ and ‘Poor.'”

Elected officials usually weighed in on which roads needed paving, Rainer said.

“I don’t know how much it was affected by politics. In the past, there were streets that needed to be paved and a limited number of funds, and it was always the custom that city officials had a say in what streets they preferred.”

Mayor Laurence Leyens said politics permeated the process of choosing which roads would be repaved.

“It was very political before,” he said. “It’s very political, and it used to be that way with the city. The north and south ward used to argue over who got paving money.”

Leyens said the assessments made using the system’s checklist take the decision out of his hands, and those of the aldermen. Rainer will make the decision using the system as his guide, not elected officials.

“Instead of the aldermen lobbying for their ward, we let the public works director decide,” Leyens said.

Leyens said the pavement management system will save money by tracking pavement deterioration, so that minor touch-ups can be performed before further deterioration necessitates costlier work.