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Think your street has the worst potholes? New super-detailed data helps city set repair priorities

Equipment paints picture of every city street
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Oct 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-23 13:56:39-04

CINCINNATI -- If you’ve ever wondered why one Cincinnati street gets repaved while one that’s nearby (probably yours) doesn’t get any attention, the city now has an explanation that doesn’t leave much room for argument.

As winter approaches, road crews are in the process of completing repaving work that was based primarily on data collected with a van that looks like something the Ghostbusters might have cobbled together in their effort to make New York City safe for all mankind.

The data gathered with the Pavement Condition Evaluator, or PaCE, equipment at a cost of about $300,000 provides far more than a smattering of information.

“Government Technology” magazine described the PaCE van as something like “a giant mobile document scanner.”

Michael Moore, director of Transportation and Engineering for the city, said the high-tech equipment produces the equivalent of a “2,000-mile long photo” of every street in the city.

A little more than a year ago, a Sharonville company called INFRAME, short for Infrastructure Management & Engineering, spent about six weeks driving over every street and alley in the city – about 940 miles in total -- with a vehicle that was packed with four line-scan cameras, four lasers, a high-definition camcorder, GPS equipment and what’s described as a distance measuring instrument.

Once all that information was dovetailed together, the city had accumulated more information than it had ever had on street conditions and plenty of objective data that could be used to determine which streets were a high priority for repaving.

"We then know, pretty much on a granular level, where every pothole is, where we have rutting, where we have a roughness index -- all of those things get captured and layered into the GIS (geographical information system) in a way that we don’t do today," Moore said in the city announcement about the project.

"It not only takes the subjectivity out, but it makes your sample size infinitely larger. Whereas before we were doing maybe two or three samples per street segment, this basically makes the entire street segment your sample size."

In addition to the $15.4 million that the city had budgeted for street rehab this year, another $14.6 million was made available through City Manager Harry Black’s Capital Acceleration Plan (CAP), which earmarks $69 million of $109 million in bond issue proceeds for roadway infrastructure over the next six years, the city said.

Cincinnati has been repaving about 110 “lane miles” every year, and the CAP plan will allow the city to add 50 to 55 lane miles each year, Black said in a prepared statement.

A “lane mile” is defined as a 10-foot-wide lane that is one mile long. A two-lane street, for example, that is 10 miles long would include 20 lane miles.

Moore said the CAP money was critically important this year, and city spokesman Rocky Merz emphasized that Black’s plan has support from elected officials.

“None of this would have been possible without the strong support of the mayor and the City Council,” Merz said.

Mayor John Cranley said the city's infrastructure and roads have been neglected for too long.

"This dramatic investment in road paving is the first step towards improving neighborhood quality of life and building a city that works for all,” Cranley said in a statement.

Moore agreed that it was critical for the city to take action this year.

“Coming out of the Great Recession and some of the tight budgets that we had, we -- like many cities -- were reaching a tipping point on the road quality for the entire city... if we did not do something drastic and quickly to infuse more money to play catchup on the roads, we risked reaching a point of no return and the roads would become so poor that you could never get caught up,” Moore said.

Of the $14.6 million in CAP money that was allocated for streets this year, about $4 million was to be spent on preventative maintenance. The city had been spending about $500,000 a year on preventative maintenance.

Maintaining streets properly is far less expensive than letting them deteriorate to a point where they must be rebuilt, which costs – at a minimum -- five or six times more than timely maintenance, Moore said.

“People are going to notice driving around the city over the next five years that there are improved road conditions,” Moore said.

In the past, city workers drove through the city and gathered most of the information that became the basis for the city’s road repair schedule.

Moore said all of the road repair work that was done this year was based, to a large degree, on the information gathered with the PaCE van.

But that doesn’t mean every road problem detected with the equipment will be addressed this year, Moore said.

Budgetary constraints limited how many miles of streets can be repaved or maintained by the city this year, he said.

Other projects that were not included in the city’s traditional street repair budget were tackled because the city had grant money available to pay for some specific rehab work, Moore said.

The city said the emphasis on the systematic repaving or maintenance of streets based on PaCE data doesn’t rule out emergency repairs in response, for example, to a gaping pothole on a street that’s not on the repaving schedule.