A recent survey of Santa Maria streets found that heavily-traveled commercial roads are at risk of rapidly deteriorating over the next few years unless substantial funds — more than the city currently possesses in its budget — are invested to maintain pavement conditions.
Road conditions and repair needs are determined on a 0 to 100 scale called the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), with a PCI score of 100 indicating a newly paved road and a score below 70 indicating a road with cracks or other distress.
According to Joe Ririe, president of San Luis Obispo-based Pavement Engineering Inc. (PEI), Santa Maria's average PCI score for commercial, collector and residential roads dropped from 70 to 67 since they first conducted a street survey in 2018, putting the road system in an "at-risk" category.
To maintain the current PCI level and prevent further deterioration, city officials said they need to spend an annual average of $10 million for the next five years. Even with current funding sources, the city comes up between $5 million and $5.5 million short, a deficit that has grown from $3 million just three years ago.
"Would you take all of your pavement budget and focus on one road [of] a mile or mile and a half, or do you treat 27 roads? [Those are] the decisions we have before us," said Principal Engineer Eric Riddiough.
Commercial roads like Stowell and Betteravia have taken the hardest hit in recent years, likely due to increased stress from heavy vehicles like commercial freighters, garbage trucks and buses, which they were not originally designed to hold, according to Ririe.
The PCI score specifically for commercial streets had the greatest drop since 2018, decreasing from 75 to 68. Residential streets, on the other hand, have maintained the same score of 68 over the past three years, which Ririe noted as a huge success thanks to focused maintenance programs by the city.
"I want to give a huge shout out to your engineering and your public works," Ririe said. "That’s your chip seal programs you’re seeing, the slurry seal, the thin maintenance overlays, and the incredible innovative approaches that the city of Santa Maria has been willing to try and adopt to stretch those limited dollars."
The city receives annual street maintenance funding of about $4.5 million from the Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account Gas Tax, the Local Surface Transportation Program and the General Fund, according to Public Works Director Kevin McCune.
However, along with searching for new grants, the city is also awaiting news about a federal infrastructure bill that would provide $579 billion in infrastructure spending.
"If approved, it would represent the largest infrastructure investment in American history and likely a significant boost to city pavement conditions," McCune said.
In the meantime, city officials are implementing a multi-pronged approach to effectively maintain roads and stretch their dollars as much as possible. One solution is to repair roads using thin maintenance overlay, adding a non-structural protective layer of mixture to extend pavement life.
According to Riddiough, the use of this method on damaged residential roads like Pershing Street in 2018 is expected to provide protection for up to 12 years and save the city around $2.5 million.
City pavement projects funded for this year include a $2.5 million repair of 27 various city streets using chip seal and modified tire rubber surface seal this fall and a $3.5 million overlay of select portions of commercial streets including Skyway and College drives, Stowell and Battles roads, Depot Street and Alvin Avenue.
Caltrans will also fund a $15 million to $20 million pavement rehabilitation project along Broadway from Preisker Lane to Lakeview Road.