Local News

Durham looks to smooth over potholes

Posted June 14, 2010 6:27 p.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2010 7:01 p.m. EDT

— Drivers in Durham say they are hitting far too many potholes, and city leaders agree that a fresh campaign to smooth over roads is needed.

Resident Tina Brown said she can't count the number of times she has hit potholes on Durham roads.

"They could use a whole lot of work done, a whole lot," Brown said.

Driver Jasmine Pearce said that a pothole caused a wreck she was in.

"Somebody had to slam on the brakes because of a pot hole, and I ran into the back of them," she said.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said he has no doubt that a major effort to repair roads is needed. More than half of city roads are rated in poor condition, he said.

"There are some significant problems with streets," Bonfield said.

The City Council has approved a referendum for the November ballot that would raise property taxes by three-quarters of a cent. The tax increase would raise about $20 million that would be used strictly to fast-track repairs on the city's worst roads, the city manager said.

"Not to criticize people who have made decisions in the past, but for many, many years, the city just ignored the conditions of the streets," said Bonfield, who began working for the city less than two years ago.

Bonfield said if the property tax increase is approved, the city would quickly tackle 325 miles of its worst roads. The remaining money would be set aside to manage the rest of the city's roads, keeping repairs from falling behind again.

Durham is also working with the state Department of Transportation to improve state-owned roads. Federal stimulus funds have been designated to pay for re-surfacing some of those roads.

Durham is responsible for maintaining 703 miles, or two-thirds of the roads, within city limits. The DOT is responsible for the remaining third.

Bonfield said the city could take advantage of deals with contractors to be had right now and the lower-than-normal price of asphalt.

"In this case, we are going to set up a plan to fast-track (to) take advantage of good construction pricing," he said.

The city manager said he believes the plan suits what city residents want. Surveys have repeatedly shown that roads are among residents' top priorities, he said.

The state must approve the referendum on property taxes before it goes on the ballot.

Brown said she will think about the issue before deciding which way she would vote on the referendum.

"If it's going to get fixed, then good, but at the same time, why should we have to pay?" she said.