My pot hole

Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Editorial Analysis:  Government really can’t win, no matter what-happens-when – someone can and will complain.  Especially at the city level; the delivery of public service is personal to each of us and easily irritating.  I am focusing hard to remember that fact of life, but living or working in downtown Tulsa at the moment is an adventure in street construction purgatory and, as I do both, I am just glad I drive an off-road vehicle.

Programs to improve downtown are under way and, when they are all done, downtown will be stunningly beautiful.  However, repairing 50 blocks at the same time in one neighborhood – even downtown – is an orange barrel-dodging nightmare.

Vision 2025 is funding $21 million worth of improvements in Tulsa through the Downtown and Neighborhoods allocation, with the Centennial Walk – street and pedestrian improvements linking major venues – receiving a good share of those monies.

Boston Avenue improvements were funded by the City of Tulsa’s 3rd Penny Capital Improvement Program, and even the Federal government is providing funds to enhance the corridor between the city bus station downtown and the intercity bus station.

Responsible government – as is being demonstrated now in Tulsa – would not just “pretty up” without repairing the deeper infrastructure.  To do otherwise would be foolish and more expensive in the long run; thus water and sewer lines beneath the streets are being refurbished.  Just imagine the howls of protest if this were not done – and a few months after a pure cosmetic treatment, a waterline broke and sections of that new road were destroyed.  I can just hear the accusations: incompetence, waste, fraud and calls for investigations.  This our grumpy drivers should remember as they are dodging bulldozers and backhoes.

In many cases, workers are digging dirt that has not seen the light of day in 130 years.  Peering into some of the deeper pits, you can see the bricks Tulsans once traveled and, occasionally, trolley track debris.  By current estimates, downtown Tulsa streets host 30,000 automobiles per day, five days a week.  Consider that for a moment.  That’s more than 7 million vehicles per year, and many of downtown’s streets have not seen major repair in decades.  How busy is your neighborhood street?  How well could it handle that level of traffic – and for how long?

But, the suburbs say, “Downtown doesn’t matter, only MY POT HOLE MATTERS.”  Yes, to some who are the centers of their own universe, nothing matters if it doesn’t fill their bellies, pad their pockets or puff their egos.

In fact, there are $600 million in repairs needed throughout the City of Tulsa, $500 million of unfunded arterial street-widening projects according to officials and two efforts are under way to examine and develop public policy priorities to address those needs.  One, initiated by Mayor Kathy Taylor, is co-chaired by citizens (a Democrat and a Republican) with the full participation of the professionals of the public works department.  The other was recently announced by City Councilor Bill Martinson.  Most Tulsans wish the best to both.  We just want the roads fixed and don’t give a flip for who gets the credit.

For the last few years, Tulsa has seen alternating weather conditions that destroy roads – all roads.  Brutal winters, blistering summers, excessive drought followed by mini-monsoons have eaten away driving surfaces.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature is even less responsive to citizen complaints than government.  My favorite line on this state is: “God made Oklahoma to prove Mother Nature has both a temper and a sense of humor in all four seasons.”

Further, the City of Tulsa does little, if any, of its own routine road maintenance.  They rely on contracts in large part so that those may be included as “capital improvement” budget items, thus saving operating and maintenance budgets for bureaucrat’s salaries and such.  In contrast, Tulsa County does its own work, and most County roads are in much better shape and are done in far less time.  Some wonder why Tulsa County does not bid on City of Tulsa road work contracts, but that is another story for another time.

While officials are reviewing street conditions and developing improvement plans and policies, let us hope they will develop independent quality controls.  Are we getting what we pay contractors to deliver?  Why do some within the industry say it is common for contractors to lay only a half-inch of asphalt when contracts call for three times that amount?  

Other construction professionals note that project sequencing is a concept the City of Tulsa often ignores.  The civilian way of saying that directly, “Do they have to tear up everything at the same time?”

As I have written before, government consists of two parts: politics and implementation.  Workers are typically skilled and conscientious, but, for example, if a mayor says, “do this first” – regardless of any schedule of need in any particular neighborhood – the chief executive ALWAYS wins.  Sometimes there are unintended consequences.

The best tip I can provide to the occasional downtown driver in this hyper-construction time is to slow down, look carefully in all directions – and expect the unexpected.  If you see a “road closed” sign, that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire road is closed.  Executing three “S” curves in one city block is possible – at low speeds.  Don’t hit the guys working, and watch for their hand signals and use your own with turn signals to clearly let other drivers, pedestrians, and construction workers know your driving intentions.
Fortunately, a recent Tulsa Police Department (TPD) initiative downtown seems to have ended.  I am not talking about the small satellite police office on Main Street, but the enforcement effort – driven again by politics.  At this time, TPD should be cutting checks and giving out coupons – or at least a lollipop or two – for those drivers brave enough to risk life, limb and undercarriage driving the streets of downtown Tulsa.

About the Author:
David Arnett began his career in professional journalism in 1985 and has published Tulsa Today since 1996 – before Al Gore invented the Internet.  He has won two national awards as a First Amendment Publisher.  Arnett is a Constitutional Republican, Public Information Specialist and Conservative Media Critic. (All photos also by Arnett.)

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 13 November 2007 )