San Francisco's budget woes make rocky roads rougher

City leaders are asking voters to approve a $248 million bond this November to make up for years of neglect and prevent the further deterioration of San Francisco’s streets.

For decades, The City has inadequately funded its infrastructure maintenance to the point where Mayor Ed Lee said Tuesday if a significant investment were not made to repair San Francisco’s ailing streets, a “financial tsunami” was on the horizon.

“I haven’t been to one town hall meeting where someone didn’t mention to me: ‘Can you just fix the potholes? Can you make our streets smoother?’” Lee said.

On Tuesday, Lee introduced the $248 million Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond.

Currently, The City’s streets have an overall score of 64 out of 100 on the pavement condition index. If the bond does not pass, The City will have just $26 million a year to spend on streets, and their overall condition will decrease to a score of 61 by 2015, according to a report on the bond. With the bond, overall conditions will improve to 66 in four years.

The bond comes amid the threat of increasing costs with delays in doing the repairs in the short term. Resurfacing streets in good condition costs about $9,000 per block. But after it deteriorates to poor condition, those costs skyrocket to $436,000 per block.

Lee said he would work to pass the bond, and suggested voters would approve it if The City could bring order to its “financial house” by also coming up with a successful measure to reduce The City’s pension costs for the November ballot.

The bond proposal, however, was met with some criticism.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said it was wrong-headed policy to pay for ongoing maintenance needs through debt.

Supervisor Mark Farrell expressed similar concerns.

“I believe we should be paying for our street maintenance out of our annual budget,” Farrell said.

“As much as I would love to be able to pay for these expenses out of our operating funds, that is just not feasible,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is supporting the bond.

The City is faced with a budget deficit of $283.1 million for next fiscal year, and pension costs alone are expected to double to $800 million by 2014.

It takes six votes by the board to place a bond the ballot, and at least six members already have signed on as sponsors. The bond would not increase property taxes, but keep them at the current level.

Paving a path

What the proposed 2011 Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond would pay for:

$148.4M Street repaving

$22M Construct 1,900 curb ramps, improve sidewalks

$7.3M Repair bridges, guardrails, tunnels, stairs

$50M Installation of pedestrian, bike safety improvements

$20.3M Upgrade traffic signals along popular Muni routes

Source: Mayor’s Office

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