A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

How to solve the street repair dilemma

Written October 21st, 2019 by Hasso Hering

Taking a look at Fir Oaks Drive S.W., where the pavement is failing.

Fir Oaks Drive winds through a posh neighborhood in southwest Albany that is less than 45 years old, and its crumbling pavement illustrates a dilemma that property owners and city officials face: When the street was built, nobody thought of the future and set aside money to keep it in good shape.

A reader of hh-today has called attention to the disintegrating surface of Fir Oaks Drive for the last three years, each time in response to a story about Albany street funding. The most recent was his comment on the Oct. 14 report that the city council had put off consideration of a bond issue to fix segments of six arterials or collectors.

“It is worse than a cobblestone street, with large sections of blacktop missing and piece-worked pot hole repairs and large cracks for the entire block,” wrote Richard Kay, who lives on Fir Oaks. “The homes in this area have a much higher tax base and a worse road than most listed in your article.”

Last week I took a look, and the photos here are the result.

The neighborhoood is not very old, I learned from Gorden Steffensmeier in the engineering section of Albany Public Works. “Fir Oaks Drive was built with Phases 5 and 6 of Fir Oaks subdivision. Those 2 phases were built in 1975 and 1976.”

Holes in the pavement now reveal another surface below. And sure enough, city records show that Fir Oaks received a “slurry seal treatment” in 2000. Steffensmeier explains: “A slurry seal is a thin coat of water, asphalt emulsion, fine aggregate, and some additives. It is applied to a street to extend the life of the asphalt.”

The slurry seal didn’t last. In some sections it now resembles ancient cobble stones, with grass peeking up from the cracks:

For years, city officials have made the point that the local share of the state fuels tax is not nearly enough to pay for all the street maintenance and repairs that should be done. The city’s website devotes a long and detailed explanation to the subject here.

The long and short of it is that Albany has a backlog of many millions of dollars of street work. Many cities across America are in the same shape. That’s because no one ever said, when a new street was built, how exactly are we setting aside money so that we can repair it when it wears out in 30 or 40 years. Nobody says that now, even as new streets and subdivisions are springing up all over the place.

In some planned developments, where the common property is owned by an association, the bylaws demand that the owners set aside money for reserves and that repairs be made every few years. If cities and their voters and taxpayers were smart, they would find a way to apply that principle to all new subdivisions as they are being built.

That would solve the problem, not now but for our children in the years to come. (hh)

17 responses to “How to solve the street repair dilemma”

  1. Terry says:

    Quit spending the tax money on non essential BS!
    Problem solved!

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      You better be talking to your 2 city councilors in your Ward… Since they will be doing the voting to make budget changes, I’m sure they’ll agree with your concept of “non essential BS.”

  2. J. Jacobson says:

    Who needs streets when the Waterfront’s just sittin’ there, waiting to be spruced.

    It’s this simple. When Albanians let a couple of bucks out of their desperately clutched wallets, the streets will be paved with gold. Until such time, the roads shall continue to crumble even as Albanians grumble.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    So taxpayers are stuck with streets the city won’t repair? A colossal failure of government and its unwillingness to prioritize appropriately.

    The city should give taxpayers their money back through a rate reduction.

    And why would any taxpayer vote for a bond or a new fee under these circumstances?

    They won’t, so the council will do what it loves to do – hang yet another fee around the neck of taxpayers without permission.

  4. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “That’s because no one ever said, when a new street was built, how exactly are we setting aside money so that we can repair it when it wears out in 30 or 40 years.”

    Exact same scenario at the state and federal level. Not to worry. “We” don’t want to pay for it – let someone else do that…

  5. Jason says:

    Use the money for what it was intended for and not vanity projects. Get out of PERS.

  6. Jim Engel says:

    It just breaks my heart that those “poor souls” living on posh Fir Oaks must suffer a rough ride. It’s unfortunate that the suspensions on their Lexus’s, Accura’s, and Cadillac SRT’s may wear out prematurely owing to over use. This issue of street repair is like an obnoxious brother-in-law who won’t go away until sufficient money is thrown at it/him. Paying 2.3 million for a riverbank survey is a very frivolous use of public funds! That amount would certainly pave that street & Fir Oaks would again be at it’s posh best.

    • Cheryl P says:

      Just because someone lives in a ‘posh’ neighborhood and drives a Lexus or a Cadillac, doesn’t make them less deserving of good street than say my less affluent neighborhood filled with Chevys and Fords. We ALL pay taxes.

  7. Patrick John Quinn says:

    Have to agree with part of what Jim Engel said, take back the 2.3 Million for the riverbank survey (ridiculous amount of money for a survey to begin with) and fix neighborhood streets. After NEEDED infrastructure repairs are finished, they do the nice things like the riverfront as you have the money to pay (and upkeep) it. More money could be brought into the scenario by not “giving” tax money away for private business downtown to spruce up and renovate their buildings. If I remember right (and I may be wrong) I thought “investing” all this money downtown was supposed to cause a return in property tax revenue, where is all this revenue going? Is it even being collected? just my opinion pat

  8. Omega-man says:

    2.3 million for a riverbank survey? You have got to be kidding me. Come on! Just more liberal non-essential BS spending. Mud, water, plant matter, there’s your survey…. Amazing!

  9. thomas cordier says:

    Again I propose letting streets go back to gravel to enhance that old town look.

  10. chuck kratch says:

    In 2017 the state legislature passed a measure, SB2017, which increased gas taxes throughout Oregon. That bill and those new taxes now provide our city with an additional one million dollars each year for the next ten years plus. How can our city justify not spending these new dollars on repairing our city streets? Its the law. All these new taxes must be spent on city streets, not pet projects! Seems an appropriate time for the city to be transparent and explain the use of this ‘new money’.
    This situation, of deteriorating streets, is not in one area of our city, it is everywhere; from South Albany to North Albany; downtown, East and West.
    Seems interesting to me that each time there is a funding ‘problem’ fire and police are the first mentioned as potential cuts. Time for the citizens to speak up at council meetings!

  11. billh says:

    38th Ave between Hill St and Marion is much worse than Fir Oaks SW, and that is certainly not a “Posh” Neighborhood” The streets date from the late 60’s and 70’s.

  12. Steve Reynolds says:

    This is going to take some work to figure this out.. My goal is spending a few hours a week reading this and becoming familiar with the material.


    With the thousands of dollars being billed for the new property tax statements and a potential unknown level of utility tax on the horizon, it suddenly has become worth our time and effort to start understanding our public financial affairs just like our private ones. The “budget” is no longer an item that we can just ignore and pay (and complain a bit about), all of us have to start analyzing and educating ourselves. It’s not enough to just complain, we have to understand.

    For instance on page 140 why do we have $410K out of the general budget going into subsidizing Albany transit? Is there no way to make this more self sustaining? Liquid fuel cost line items are substantial across all departments, are we looking at alternative fuel vehicles? One of the questions I have is, why can’t we sustain city services under the limits imposed by Measure 50, even with the increases of 3% per year? As we become more familiar with this and better educated, we’ll be able to ask more detailed and informed questions.

    • Jennifer says:

      Steve Reynolds, I challenge you to find any kind of transit that is self sustaining.

      • Steve Reynolds says:


        Like I said I’m just spending a few hours a week reading through the financial statements. Our taxes is one of the largest line items in our household budgets, it’s the largest line item on my mortgage statement, didn’t use to be. As I read through the PAFR, CAFR and the “Budget”, the idea of a subsidy is prevalent throughout, also reading the city manager’s statement kind if gives me insight into where he thinks the blame for the upcoming budget issues lay. The mere fact he’s pointing out the storm clouds on the horizon is of concern

        I hear this argument, “I challenge you to find any kind of (fill in the blank) that is self sustaining.”; for the library, Linn County Expo, swimming pool, senior center, pre-school, NWAAF, etc. The budget is full of line item after line item of worthy causes that can’t generate enough public support to pay for themselves (other than water and sewer). No one likes the Kellum doctrine, fund public safety and then figure out what you can subsidize after those expenses are paid, but that’s part of reality, I commend him for bringing up such an unpalatable subject. This idea of looking at the debit side and seeing what expenses are submitted then go to the credit side and make the revenue match just doesn’t work, that’s always a disaster.

        So… looking at Albany public transit financials, projected expenses have increased from a cost per ride of $7.75, 16/17 budget to a $8.90 cost per ride 19/20/21 budget. Total expenses for last year were $1.097 million, total government funding was $1.018 million about half coming from the city, that leaves $79k in bus fares and some of that was passes for LBCC and OSU. 71,800 rides. You’re telling me you can’t generate more than $79k? Also looks like there’s a fairly substantial decrease in federal funding projected this year, does that mean even more out of the city general budget to make up the difference? They report a cash balance of $336k in reserves from last year so far YTD a negative $72k balance.

        The Linn/Benton loop cost per ride is $4.42, increased to $6.21. I noticed one of the strategic action line items listed was ordering some new buses coming up next month. I was wondering what kind are being ordered? I’m not picking on this one department, just trying to figure what we’re paying for and seeing if there’s a better mouse trap.

        It’s no fun to have to go through each department and ask these questions. There’s 438.493 employees that we have to figure out how to pay for and still keep the community economically viable. Peter, our city manager, has a yucky job sometimes (so does council), but this will be far worse if you get into compression and he’s right about the storm clouds.

        • mike says:

          I would look at the upcoming STIF funds that ATS will be getting in the next year or so. In theory that might make transit a bad example in the future, though it may end up being consumed by route expansions. I can’t say I’m well versed in reading this kind of dense budget but it looks like their revenues will more than double in 2021.


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