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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 12, 2013 at 2:38 PM

Burgess says he’ll spend more on road maintenance

Corrected version: A previous version of this story misstated the amount supported by Burgess and McGinn to study light rail to Ballard.

Like many a mayoral candidate (and mayor) before him,  Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess today said he’d do a better job at fixing potholes and addressing the road-maintenance backlog in the city if he’s elected mayor.

Standing near an intersection on Capitol Hill, Burgess pointed to a patched stretch of pavement on East Pike Street and then to an unpatched crater on Boylston Avenue, about 10 yards  away, and questioned why city repair crews hadn’t gotten to both.

Burgess said he’d change the strategy for fixing streets from what he called a “worst first” approach to one that would divide the city into grids and direct the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to repair streets in a more systematic and proactive way.

“Our city transportation system is falling apart. That’s unacceptable,” Burgess said.

Burgess said the backlog in street and bridge repair had grown under Mayor Mike McGinn to $1.8 billion, despite the nine-year Bridging The Gap levy approved in 2006 that was meant to address the city’s growing maintenance needs. Burgess said the backlog had been only $600 million, but that figure actually dates to 2006, before the levy went to voters, and four years before McGinn took office.

Burgess also was critical of McGinn for not doing more to build and repair sidewalks. He said SDOT needs $13 million annually to fix half of all sidewalks in the city in 100 years. But the city is only spending $2 million, meaning it will take 500 years to get through its list, he said.

Burgess said that if he is mayor, he will encourage a larger Bridging the Gap levy when it comes up for renewal. He also questioned whether SDOT was spending all of its budgeted money on repairs and maintenance now.

While the poor condition of the city’s roads seems fair game for the mayoral contest, picking on McGinn for ignoring potholes seems misplaced. McGinn made a highly-publicized effort to step-up pot hole repair in 2011, after a sudden freeze in December 2010 was followed by warm and heavy rains that January, cracking and swelling pavement across town. Pothole repairs in 2011 rose to almost 20,000, more than 2009 and 2010 combined. In 2012, that pace continued, with the city repairing 18,551 potholes, according to SDOT figures.

Burgess seems to be saying that he’d do it smarter, but it may be hard to outmuscle the mayor on transportation issues. Burgess, like McGinn, supported the failed $60 car tab measure that would have pumped more money into the repair backlog, as well as $18 million for light-rail planning. Both Burgess and the mayor support an $2.3 million effort to plan for high-capacity transit from downtown to Ballard, despite the big road and bridge maintenance backlog.

But appealing to voters with a pitch for basic maintenance has succeeded before. Greg Nickels, in his challenge to incumbent Paul Schell in 2001, said that while Schell wanted to create sidewalk cafes, he, Nickels, would first build sidewalks.

Nickels trounced Schell in the primary with his emphasis on maintaining basic infrastructure. Burgess seems to be taking a page from the same playbook.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest | Topics: mike mcginn, potholes, seattle mayor's race

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