Road report: How do Brown County cities stack up

By Rick Cohler

BROWN COUNTY – Though the weather during the months of March, April and May is unpredictable – stocking hat weather one day, sun dress the next – but one thing most Brown County residents can count on during this time is potholes, bumpy roads and more potholes.

Streets during the spring months show the effects of cold weather, snow and ice and plowing.

The City of Green Bay has a total of 415.88 miles of local streets – 142 miles of primary streets and 22.73 miles of alleys.

In any given year, Green Bay street crews resurface between 1-2% of the city’s streets.

Green Bay Public Works Director Steve Greiner said since 1999, the percentage of city streets repaved has hovered around 2% – as high as 2.4% in 2005 and as low as .065% in 2016 – with 1.69% planned for 2022.

Studies have shown asphalt pavement on low-traffic streets lasts about 20 years before it needs resurfacing.

Greiner said the condition of city streets are comparable to other cities of similar size and age.

He said the city has an annual program to resurface residential streets that has been in practice for years – which include a physical inspection of every road segment in the city by city staff every two years.

“Those road segments are given a numerical rating and we utilize those ratings to develop a list of candidate streets for resurfacing and reconstruction,” Greiner said.

Streets rated four or less on a 10-point scale are considered in poor condition.

 “We use that data, combined with ratings of our sanitary and storm sewers to narrow down that list to streets that we can get the best return on investment,” Greiner said. “If we have a street that is in need of resurface, repair, reconstruction that doesn’t have any sewer needs versus one that does we would rather do the work on the street that has the sewer needs as well so we don’t have to dig up a new street to repair a sewer within the next 20 or 25 years, which would be the lifespan of that street.”

He said the list is then forwarded to the Green Bay Water Utility and compared with its master plan.

“That creates a candidate list of kind of a ‘worst first’ approach and that is how we develop our program,” Grenier said. “Our resurfacing program is significantly different than a lot of our neighbors. Ours is more comprehensive and in-depth. It’s not a true resurfacing program; it is a hybrid pavement rehabilitation program.”

Greiner said the city has also increased the number of streets that are being completely reconstructed as well.

Wheel tax

Green Bay enacted a $20 municipal vehicle registration fee (aka wheel tax) in January 2019.

In the first year, Grenier said the city received a little more than $1.7 million in wheel tax revenue, spending nearly $1.2 million and carrying over a little more than $586,000.

In 2020, the fees collected jumped to $1.9 million and with the carry-over from 2019, the net expenditures totalled about $2.1 million (with approximately $409,000 carryover).

The collections jumped to just shy of $2 million in 2021.

Grenier said the net expenditures equaled about $1.9 million, which left just under $550,000 of carryover into 2022.

Over the last three years, Greiner said the wheel tax revenues have been used for black top materials, joint sealing materials and resurfacing assessments 

“The tax has allowed us to better plan our program, because one of the primary uses of that wheel tax fund is to cover the cost that had been previously assessed against residential properties,” Greiner said. “With that special assessment charge no longer going to the property owners, a lot of the opposition we had in the past has been removed.”

He said the wheel tax has also added some to the amount of money available for road repair, but not enough to cover the backlog of streets needing repair.

Though the city plans to increase the number of streets for reconstruction, Greiner said the City Council pulled four projects from the 2022 budget.

“We had projects on School Place, Howard Street, Oakland Avenue and a project on Finger Road that were all cut out of this year’s program,” he said.

The projects, however, were plugged back into the city’s bond request in mid-February after council members removed green infrastructure projects.

“You know how behind we are on our streets?” District 8 Alderperson Chris Wery said at the Feb. 16 Green Bay City Council meeting.

Election hot topic

Road repair has become an issue in at least one aldermanic district in the April 5 city election. District 7 Incumbent Alderperson Randy Scannell faces a challenge from political newcomer Robert Miller, who has been critical of the city’s road repair record over the past several years. 

Miller said city figures shared with him by Grenier show about 10% of city streets are rated in failed to poor condition.

“The longer you let these potholes be exposed to the elements the greater the likelihood that water will seep in there, freeze and it’s going to heave the pavement, so it’s a snowball effect,” Miller said. “This kind of negligent asphalt program is costing the taxpayers additional money in having to resurface.”

He said car damage is also costing drivers for repairs.

“The most charitable interpretation is that mayors (Jim) Schmitt and (Eric) Genrich have been misleading the public,” he said.

Miller said the wheel tax is regressive because the poor and the wealthy each pay the same amount of wheel tax.

“We got rid of the special assessments by having some portion of the poor population pay for the special assessments that would have been paid for by the affluent,” he said.

Scannell, on the other hand, said things need to be put in perspective.

“We’re the oldest city in the state, we’re very spread out and have a lot of roads,” Scannell said. “Under the old practice of special assessments the property owners said ‘No.’ After a while those roads were just dumped to the bottom of the list and they didn’t get done. It got to the point where the city went in and charged the special assessments, which was a hardship to those people. The wheel tax makes it more affordable. We now need to start over with a clean slate and do the roads that are the worst, first.”

2022 projects

Grenier said repair and replacement dominate the projects for 2022.

He said there are no major developments coming in or other driving factors that are playing into what streets are affected.

“We’re simply going through our normal evaluation process,” he said. “I would characterize this year as more of a vanilla approach. Last year, on the other hand, we did a lot of significant construction on Jackson Street, and that was in consultation with Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) Corporation as they had a big gas main replacement project. Jackson was on our radar and when WPS came to us with a project that would cause major disruption to that street, that was a good time for us to program our work. We get in there and do our work, and the folks who live on that street are not inconvenienced multiple times. We don’t have a project like that this year.”

In comparison with De Pere

Historically, De Pere City Engineer Eric Rakers said of the approximately 110 miles of city-maintained streets, the goal each year for resurfacing, concrete rehab or reconstruction is 4-5%, and the city does not levy special assessment for most street or utility work.

Instead, the city utilizes tax levy and bonding for the majority of its road work projects.

Rakers said the only exception is for new utility installations.

“With that being said, we are putting out new laterals on east and west St. Francis, Seventh Street, Sixth Street and Lewis Street. So, those projects have an assessment for storm water main or laterals, but we don’t assess for street resurfacing. We don’t assess for water main relays, we line the sanitary sewer laterals and we don’t assess for that.”

For that project, Rakers said the street portion is general levy.

“The sanitary is from the sanitary utility and the water main is from the water utility,” he said.

Overall, Rakers said he doesn’t think winter was too hard on city streets.

“There are streets that have more potholes, but some of those are beyond resurfacing, so we’re going to let them deteriorate a little more to the point of needing reconstruction,” he said.

In addition to its routine street projects in 2022, Rakers said the city has several sizable projects as well.

“We’re reconstructing Lewis Street from Broadway to Ontario adjacent to the (future) Mulva (Cultural Center) site,” he said. “The road needed to be reconstructed so we’re tying the two together.”

The city will also reconstruct the alley between Reid and Fifth Street on De Pere’s west side. “That’s an alley where we’re doing quite a bit of additional work to add parking to accommodate the Cobblestone Hotel that’s going up,” he continued. “We’ll be putting in some pedestrian walkways and lighting.”

Rakers said a number of street overlays are also on the 2022 schedule.

Next week: The Village of Bellevue also collects a $20 wheel tax. How it utilizes the funds collected, as well as a deeper look at the WIS 29-VV interchange and other community road projects will be discussed in part 2 of Road Report Cards.

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