How can city’s road departments save money?

Roads are a vital part of our cities; they provide the networks for which we all get around and good are delivered. They have allowed us to travel from across continents and countries in a safe and effective means. Roads have become just as important for our cities as water and telecom and your more then likely to hear people complain about their poor condition if they are in such shape. They are expensive to maintain and cities have fallen behind on their repairs which costs motorists and humans alike. As municipalities and provinces struggle to keep up with the costs of repairing and keeping up with modern maintenance requirements we need to ask: How can cities road departments do more with less?

If we look at one of the streets in Thunder Bay; in this case a city block of Halton St. The street is 158 metres long by 9.75 metres wide with expanded areas by intersections that aren’t counted in this example. This gives it a total volume of 1,540.50 and if we convert it to square ft it equals 16,581.804. While its unknown what the City of Thunder Bay would pay for a square foot since they would purchase in bulk the cost for an average person ranges from $2 a square foot to $5. To get a nice mean number we will use $3.5 a square foot for the example. Using these two numbers, we get a cost beyond $58,000 top repave the road and we have not accounted for labour, cost of materials underneath the road, additional work like sidewalks, sewers and telecommunications. We can see that this type of work gets expensive and gets expensive very quickly for for taxpayers. This increasing cost is part of the reason why urban sprawl is so deadly to city budgets. What can a roads department do to reduce the costs of repaving roads and fixing up our infrastructure. One means could be reducing the size of the road or for marked roads the lanes that are on the space. A reduction of width from 9.75 metres (Halton) to 9.25 is a reduction of half a metre which would be negligible for drivers and users of the road. That reduction brings the size of the road down from 1,540.50 metres to 1,461.50 or minus 79 metres. The square foot measurements of that road is reduced from 16,581.804 to 15731.4551.  This reduction in size allows the city to save almost $3,000 in direct savings on asphalt. This $3,000 savings is a a 5% cost reduction on that portion of the costs alone which could provide the City of Thunder Bay millions if spread over the total cost of the city. The City spent $19 million dollars this year on roads rehabilitation; if we were to estimate that 10 million went to asphalt costs and used this 5% reduction by eliminating 0.50 metres. The city would save $500,000 annually that could be reused to pave additional road, add accessories like bike lanes or sidewalks or returned to the city coffers. A small reduction that would be the equivalent of a 0.5% tax increase to pay for other ways.

Another question we need to ask while proposing this idea is: is reducing the size of roads safe for the users. A recent report for the Department of Transportation (American) found that smaller roadways have the same or less accidents then wider roadways. The Texas Transportation institute found “On suburban arterial straight sections away from a traffic signal, higher speeds should be expected with greater lane widths.” So smaller roads mean we drive slower, we have less accidents and the severity of those accidents are less. Its also been reported that people tend to drive slower, pay more attention and use their cell phones less. This means safer drivers, less emergency services costs and lower insurance rates.

So the question of how can roads divisions save city’s money? The answer is where possible build smaller roads. Its cheaper, saves lives and allows residents in these smaller roads to do more things with the extra space such as bike lanes, additional green space, larger sidewalks etc.

References:

http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/why-12-foot-traffic-lanes-are-disastrous-for-safety-and-must-be-replaced-now/381117/

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