Rifle unveils road repair strategy | PostIndependent.com

Rifle unveils road repair strategy

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

For the time being, it appears the city of Rifle will not have to take on new debt to repair roads.

The situation is constantly changing, but city officials presented a preliminary plan in mid-March that details a maintenance approach through 2023 that will use the existing fund balance, rather than borrowing money.

Voters narrowly approved a ballot question last September that would allow the city to borrow up to $5 million for street repairs and equipment for road maintenance. The question does not contain a sunset, and it is possible the city would need to borrow money in the future.

“The economy is constantly in flux, and you need to know you have a backstop to solve essential problems,” City Manager Matt Sturgeon said. “And the other (thing) is that revenues have kind of been equally in flux as a result of the economy. So we weren’t certain we could pull this off, and we’re still not certain. This (capital plan) is simply based on a forecast. So say in 2019 if revenues go the other way, we’re still responsible for streets, and we know that we have the ability to take on those problems …”

As the newly elected City Council entered the budget planning season last fall, it requested staff to explore options for minimizing the amount of money the city would need to borrow, or possibly avoid borrowing entirely.

That report, which includes a summary of projects through 2018, was presented to Council on March 16.

For 2016, staff suggested a complete rebuild of Eighth Street from Birch Avenue to Dogwood Drive, and Fir Avenue from east Seventh Street to Dogwood Drive. That project is estimated to cost $800,000 and also includes upgrades required by the Americans with Disability Act, crack seal and or chip and seal on specified side streets.

Other projects for 2016 include resetting the traffic light signal poles to improve intersection safety and ADA/pedestrian flow and replace a pole damaged by vehicle impact. The projects laid out in the plan through 2018 focus on specific neighborhoods from year to year, as a cost saving measure.

While some of the projects slated for this year were included in the budget, completing all the suggested projects for 2016 in the street plan would spend down the street improvement fund balance to $6.6 million.

Since the 2016 approved budget proposed ending the year with a $7.97 million balance in the street improvement fund, City Council would need to appropriate the additional $1.36 million in expenditures at the end of the year.

The proposed plan calls for spending down the street fund’s robust balance, which is largely due to a $5.6 million payment in 2014 from the Colorado Department of Transportation to the city for accepting ownership of segments of Highways 6 and 13.

Those dollars are earmarked for improvement projects on the segments of highway now under the city’s ownership. However, the city is able to use those dollars in the immediate future if it replenishes the funds — essentially meaning the city would borrow money from itself.

The proposed projects are staggered so that there are years where the city would spend less in order to replenish those funds, although the overall balance will not return to its current level due to improvements to the segments of Highways 6 and 13, Sturgeon said.

Having a strategic plan for city streets is a step forward and a sign of both the city’s ability and its willingness to be more forward thinking, Sturgeon added.

“We’ve always been reactionary, and that’s because of the limited revenue that has flowed into the city,” Sturgeon said. “So we’ve always year to year evaluated the condition of our streets and tackled whatever was in the worst condition.”

There is no assurance that the city will not need to borrow money in the next several years, Sturgeon added, saying the plan is “not a static document.” The city is considering platforms that would allow residents to identify street projects with the goal of better informing staff’s strategic planning.

In the meantime, there are pressing projects, including the improvement on and around east Eighth Street this year and improvements to Railroad Avenue between Third and Fourth streets. The latter likely will not happen until 2017.

The city’s ability to fund projects internally without borrowing money will likely end in 2023 when the Centennial Parkway bridge over Rifle Creek is programed for replacement — an estimated $4.5 million project.