Trapped By Street Maintenance

Source: ABC11 story citing number of pothole complaints to NCDOT from Sept 2018 through Oct 2019 in NC. I can't imagine what this number would be if it included all complaints to all agencies as well as people swearing under their breath and not actually filing an official complaint.

I recently read this article in the 9th Street Journal about a survey of Durham residents. According to the author, street maintenance is consistently the number one complaint that residents have. Durhamites want more funding to go to street maintenance because there are plenty of roads in Durham that have cracks, potholes, etc.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is quoted as calling on the state to fix the roads that it owns and controls.

Through this blog, I have tried to point out the problems with sprawl and here we have a concrete (pun intended) example of one of those problems. The more dispersed people are, the more roads are needed to connect them all. The more roads we have, the more it costs to maintain them.

Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, IN and current U.S. Secretary of Transportation recently spoke at the CityLab 2021 virtual conference about this very problem. Road maintenance issues are not unique to Durham. In fact, despite all of the complaints, Durham is probably in much better shape than many cities due to the fact that we are growing and increasing the local tax base.

In particular, Secretary Pete had this to say (watch from 4:09 to 5:40):

I loved hearing him say "there are some areas where actually the number of square feet of asphalt in a city probably ought to go down". Of course, that is easier said than done. You don't want to take away a road leading to anyone's house, regardless of how inefficient it is.

So for Durham, what is the solution? It may not be an instant fix, but since Durham is growing, we should at least be adding much more density to areas like downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. We should be encouraging ADU and duplex development above and beyond the Expanding Housing Choices initiative. The more tax base we can add WITHOUT adding additional roads, the better off we will be years in the future. If we are successful at becoming denser and capturing tax value without increases expenses as much, perhaps we will be able to afford some of that road maintenance that residents love to complain about.

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