The Mobile City Council’s public services committee heard from representatives of a number of local utility companies in hopes of finding a solution to the many patches located on Mobile’s streets.
Councilman Fred Richardson, chair of the committee, started Tuesday’s meeting with a video outlining some of the city’s most patched streets. The video focused on areas of Macy Place, as well as Dauphin, Hallett and Pine streets. Richardson said there must be a solution because in recent trips to London and Huntsville he didn’t notice any street patches.
“We’re trying to determine what can be done,” Richardson said. “We’re spending millions of dollars to resurface streets and we don’t want to have the same issue.”
When utilities need to cut a street — if less than 10 percent, or 70 feet, of a block is affected — the entity is required to only patch the hole. If more than 10 percent of a block is affected — measured from cross street to cross street — than the city requires the block to be resurfaced at the entity’s expense.
Utilities are required to apply for a permit before work on a city right-of-way can begin.
Richardson requested every utility that had been given a permit in 2015 to attend the meeting. Of the more than 2,241 right-of-way permits granted last year, the majority went to the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service (MAWSS) for work on water and sewer lines underneath city roads. Executive Director of Planning and Development Dianne Irby cautioned councilors that not all permits resulted in cuts to the streets, but roughly 50 percent of MAWSS permits resulted in cuts.
City engineer Nick Amberger said there are further restrictions listed in the ordinance based on the last time a street was resurfaced. If the street was resurfaced less than a year ago, the city adds $1,000 to the permit fee and it’s a sliding scale from there for the first five years, Amberger said. For each year after the first year, $200 is knocked off the fee for up to five years, he said.
The city also works closely with MAWSS to avoid situations where a newly resurfaced street is cut for utility work, Amberger said.
Cuts can also be made by the city’s Public Works department for storm drain repairs, or other work, Amberger said.
Charles Hyland, MAWSS director, blamed aging infrastructure under the roadway for the need to cut into surface streets so often. The oldest portion of MAWSS’ more than 1,500 miles of water lines and 1,450 miles of sewer lines are east of Interstate 65.
“It’s quite a huge task to try and replace all that infrastructure,” Hyland said. “Unfortunately, it gets to the point where funding is not there to replace it and you end up making a lot of repairs.”
Hyland said MAWSS doesn’t set out to cut into a newly resurfaced street, but when customers have an issue that results in a loss of water or sewer service, they have no choice. To that end, Hyland said, MAWSS has averaged 1,200 cuts per year over the last five years, paying $1.5 million in permit fees. MAWSS has also paid roughly $10.8 million in contracts to patch the work.
Councilman Levon Manzie suggested finding a way to track where each of the cuts are made and earmarking permit money, which goes into the city’s general fund, into the specific districts affected by the cuts. Councilwoman Bess Rich, on the other hand, said the funds should be used for replacing subsurface infrastructure.
Councilman Joel Daves, warned councilors to take caution when enacting changes to the ordinance or fee structure. He said there is no free money and residents also pay fees for service to many of the utilities in question, including MAWSS, Alabama Power, Mobile Gas and others.
“Our citizens pay for it one way or another, either through city money, or usage fees,” Daves said.
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