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Federal Way's roads beat Seattle's streets | City credits maintenance

Does Federal Way have some of the best kept roads in King County?

While Seattle residents are eyeing an additional $60 in car tab fees to help improve roads and build bike paths, Federal Way’s streets are kept in good health through the city’s asphalt overlay fund.

This summer alone, Federal Way paved 13.7 lane miles of roadway, using 15,000 tons of asphalt, according to the city. Outside of the roads, Federal Way also replaced 85 wheelchair ramps.

City spokesman Chris Carrel said Federal Way’s leadership decided early on that keeping local roads in good shape was a priority.

“If we don’t take care of maintenance for our asphalt surfaces, we’ll get into a situation like Seattle,” he said. “Some other cities have fallen into this trap. They haven’t invested in annual upkeep, so deferred maintenance grows and grows.”

In Seattle, the city’s Department of Transportation has filled 36,479 potholes since 2009, with 19,851 of those in 2011. More than 400 miles of Seattle’s “arterial” lanes are rated between “serious or failed” to “very poor” to “poor,” according to the American Society for Testing and Materials.

“The whole reason behind our program is to avoid that, to keep our roads in good shape,” Carrel said.

Cary Roe, director of parks and public works and emergency management for Federal Way, praised the asphalt overlay program’s effectiveness.

“You don’t have to drive very far to see streets that haven’t gotten that level of attention,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we can stack up our pavement conditions with just about anybody in the region. We have some of the best streets in the Puget Sound region.”

One of the newest additions to the program is a high speed camera that attaches to a vehicle as it drives through Federal Way. The camera records the pavement condition in high definition. From what’s seen on the video, that particular stretch of road is assigned a score. The score determines whether that stretch of road is selected for overlay, Roe said.

The city uses a rating system called OCI (Overall Condition Index) that rates road surface quality on a point system from 0 to 100, with a score of 100 being a newly paved road. Federal Way’s goal is to maintain an average rating of 79 percent or more, according to the city.

In June, a project involved asphalt overlay on South 320th Street between 3rd Lane Southwest to 6th Avenue South. The work included a two-and-a-half-inch overlay of 320th Street, along with repairing sidewalks, curbs and gutters, replacing traffic loops, adjusting existing utilities, restriping, and upgrading and installing wheelchair ramps.

Cost of upkeep

Keeping up on the asphalt overlay throughout the city is vital for road conditions, Roe said. Once a road hits a critical point, it quickly gets expensive and labor intensive.

“When we first started the program (in 1995), we showed council some curves developed by the pavement industry,” he said. “The backside of those curves is very steep, meaning the condition drops off very rapidly after a certain point. We’ve always tried to be proactive, to try to get to those streets before they’re in complete failure mode.”

Roe used the example of South 324th Street back in the 1990s. He said the road had gone too far, and had to be completely replaced.

“Constructing a new road is three to three and a half times more expensive than overlay,” he said.

The overlay fund comes from a dedicated 1 percent utility tax and motor fuel tax, according to city finance director Tho Kraus. That 1 percent utility tax equals approximately $1.6 million per year, while the fuel tax yields approximately $500,000 per year, Kraus told The Mirror. In 2011, Kraus indicated $600,000 was pulled from this fund in order to help meet other budget issues, but emphasized this was a one-time occurrence.

Roe said the city’s streets are its most valuable asset, and that keeping them in good shape is vital to all aspects of Federal Way’s future.

“The largest and most valuable asset we own is our roads. It overshadows every other aspect of our infrastructure,” he said. “We’re trying to protect that asset and manage it in a way that’s smart. That’s the biggest return because that’s what the community owns.”

Facebook feedback

The Mirror posted the following question on Facebook: Does Federal Way have some of the best kept roads in King County?

Sharon Jo Sloan: I think we aren’t too bad when I read about the pothole sob stories in other parts of the county.

Shih-An Cheng: Yes we do!

Jenna Carodiskey-Wiebe was a bit more sarcastic in her response: We should, we seem to be working on them non-stop.

Charles J. Brezina was the most emphatic on his feelings: WHAT?? We have the worst stretch of I-5 washboard between Canada and Mexico, our senators and reps sold out to the transportation lobbyists for use of all lanes except the HOV! The only reason 320th east of I-5 is newly paved is because of the $3,000,000 taj mahal fire station, the rest of the roads are marginal to the amount of tax money spent.

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