OKC residents are most concerned about the state of city streets 

click to enlarge A pot hole on N.W. 36th Street causes traffic to veer left to keep from hitting it, near the First Christian (Egg) Church.  mh
  • A pot hole on N.W. 36th Street causes traffic to veer left to keep from hitting it, near the First Christian (Egg) Church. mh

A majority of Oklahoma City residents said they’re concerned about the conditions of local streets, according to a recent survey.

The 2016 City of Oklahoma City Citizen Survey report included anonymous comments that advocated for overall road improvements as well as installation of sidewalks, added protected bike lanes and new initiatives to improve traffic safety.

“The roads throughout Oklahoma City — but most specifically central Oklahoma City — are in horrible condition, beyond an eyesore,” one surveyed individual wrote. “It is a safety hazard.”

Another wrote, “The downtown area is well cared for, but the remainder of the city lacks good roads, sidewalks, crossing lights and effective public transit.”

The concerns are not new to OKC, which stretches across 620 square miles and into three other counties. For several years, the annual survey, conducted online and through paper questionnaires, has consistently shown roads as a top concern.

Of the more than 1,300 randomly selected respondents, 77 percent said they were dissatisfied with road conditions. A year earlier, 58 percent checked the dissatisfied box. In 2014, 44 percent said they were dissatisfied.

“Frankly, I’ve said this last year and the year before,” said Chris Tatham of ETC Institute, the company that conducted the survey, as he addressed the Oklahoma City Council. “Streets continued to be the No. 1 concern and priority for residents.”

Tatham hand-delivered the report to council members during its Aug. 30 meeting. In the past, survey results have helped shape and support city leaders’ policy decisions.

click to enlarge Eric Wenger, City of Oklahoma City Public Works Director.  4-6-15.  mh
  • Eric Wenger, City of Oklahoma City Public Works Director. 4-6-15. mh

Council reaction

The results puzzled a handful of council members, including Vice Mayor James Greiner, who speculated many residents hold perceptions that streets are in bad shape. Annually, city staff updates the council on the city’s pavement condition index (PCI), a qualitative measure for road surface quality. The city’s current PCI is 65, which is slightly higher than 2011’s score of 60. A 100 is a rating given to a new road and a zero to one is undrivable.

In coming months, a special council session could be planned to examine road conditions. Two council members, including Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell, suggested the session after viewing the report. Greenwell, who represents a portion of south central OKC, indicated feedback on roads could affect municipal election outcomes, which are slated for March.

The survey showed that discontent with major city streets spanned all eight of the city’s wards, although some residents of northwestern portions of the city and some living east of Ward 4’s Tinker Air Force Base were less likely to be troubled with roads. Ward 6 respondents residing north of Interstate 40 and west of Broadway Extension said they were “very dissatisfied” with major road conditions.

Overall satisfaction with neighborhood streets crept into all wards but appeared  more dominant in Wards 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7.

“When I ran for office, people would ask what were the two or three most important issues we need to address,” Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher said. “At the time, we were in the middle of a drought. Water was my primary concern and roads were next; I think we solved our water issue.

“Right now, we need to do something quickly in the neighborhoods. I’ve heard people say, ‘If your neighborhoods aren’t thriving, if your neighborhoods aren’t happy, no one is happy.’”

Ongoing public investment

The city has agreed to invest $50 million into road construction projects, including work along residential streets, over the next 10 months, said Eric Wenger, director of the city’s public works department.

The department has witnessed multimillion dollars pumped steadily into OKC road projects over the last nine years, including the recent streetscape improvements along NW 23rd Street and widening in west OKC near Morgan Road. Staff oversees the addition of new lane miles to roads, construction of new sidewalks and resurfacing projects. Typically, significant street projects require a bond issue. The last time city voters approved a significant bond measure was 2007.

“The 2007 bond issue was the first time roads took front and center,” said Wenger, who started working for the city in 1994. “It’s not that road construction work wasn’t done before, but that bond issue dedicated nearly $500 million of the more than $800 million to just road construction.”

OKC voters approved $445 million for 31 resurfacing projects, 49 road-widening projects and 57 road reconstruction projects. Reserves pushed the total to just under $500 million. Nearly a decade later, more than 50 percent of all listed 2007 bond issue projects, including downtown’s Project 180, are either completed or under construction.

Road widening projects started first in growing areas, mostly on the outskirts of the city’s urban core. Road resurfacing and reconstruction projects to come up first were based on high traffic numbers and reports of poor conditions. More projects remain to be started.

Even with a half a billion dollars dedicated to roads, Wenger admits not all roadways that needed enhancements were included in the last bond issue. The director views the proposed 2017 bond issue as the follow-up and road projects missed a decade earlier or newly problematic streets. Public participation in upcoming public meetings is key, Wenger said. While the city reviews road conditions, narratives from daily travelers can propel projects to be included.

“In the next bond issue, it is likely we wouldn’t be able to completely fund all the streets, but it is definitely going to help us launch into the next five to seven years with street improvements,” Wenger said.

The final 2007 bond sale is slated for 2020, and competition of the final bond projects will likely coincide. For streets, city staff is working to launch neighborhood resurfacing projects next. As he flipped through city documents, Wenger pointed to shaded areas in neighborhoods across all wards slated for work.

“We have projects in your area of the city and more coming in the next years,” Wenger said. “A typical neighborhood project will include resurface of all neighborhood streets and added sidewalks to at least one side of the street, if the street didn’t have sidewalks previously.”

Annually, the public works department is allocated funding for city street maintenance, which has a crew of 220 employees. On any given day, 12 to 14 teams of pothole crews are stationed at troubled roads.

“We are going to stay committed to investing, improving and enhancing city streets because we know, through the survey, it is the No. 1 priority,” Wenger said. “We are seeing improvements, but satisfaction has slid. We hope we have the opportunity to maintain the public support moving forward. We are making a difference.”

Print headline: Ongoing concern, An OKC citizens survey shows streets are still a concern, which likely will prompt action in a 2017 bond proposal.

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