With estimates of a complete rebuild of Ann Street topping the $8 million mark, Councilman Levon Manzie has announced plans to use a new technique as a pilot program to help drivers in District 2 get a smoother ride.
The city began a complete rebuild of Ann Street a few years ago after a sinkhole opened up near Craighead Elementary in District 3. Since that time, Councilman C.J. Small has used a portion of his district’s capital improvement funds to finish the project on his side of the city. Manzie said he initially thought CIP funds would be the answer too, but quickly learned it wasn’t feasible.
“According to our professional staff, the sections of Ann Street in District 2, in order to totally rebuild — which would be the resurfacing job and replacing infrastructure underneath the street — would be approximately $8 million,” Manzie said. “That’s $2.3 [million] to $2.7 million per block for the sections.”
The cost projections are high in part because the bulk of Ann Street is in District 2, Manzie said. Also, the city is committed to rebuilding the street block by block in alignment. Cost and the order of the work are the two biggest impediments to the District 2 side of Ann Street — from Virginia Street to Springhill Avenue — being completed, he said.
The $8 million price tag would have eaten up the majority of capital funds in District 2. Through CIP funding, which came to the city through a sales tax increase, each district received a total of $9 million for three years. The project would’ve required that Manzie use a chunk of one year’s allotment to fund just the first section of Ann Street on the District 2 side.
“What that would’ve amounted to is setting aside 70 to 80 percent of one year’s allotment of CIP so that when the work got finished in District 3 we could start one section in [District] 2,” he said. “All the while those needs in all these other communities and all these other roads and all these other things that are just desperately in need of repair would’ve gone neglected.”
Since Ann Street is the top resurfacing issue Manzie hears about on a weekly basis, he said he introduced Mayor Sandy Stimpson and city engineer Nick Amberger to a technique he picked up while visiting Pittsburgh late last year as part of a National League of Cities meeting.
Given Pittsburgh’s resurfacing challenges related to both terrain and climate, Manzie believes the technique might also work in Mobile, and has convinced the city to give it a try as part of a pilot program.
“They discussed with me a process they’ve used to — almost like a stopgap — where you would grind down the top layer of a particular street, inlay it with this filament, which would in turn strengthen it, until you have the resources to come in and completely do the rebuild,” Manzie said. “We brought that idea back to Mobile. We met with Nick Amberger and talked to Mayor Stimpson about it, who’s also equally concerned about moving ahead with something equally progressive on Ann Street, and so what we’re going to do is a pilot. We’re going to take a stretch of Ann and try to replicate their process.”
Not only is the process less expensive than an entire rebuild, which would require coordination with the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, but it’s safer for the street and uses less asphalt than repaving, Manzie said.
“Well, according to our city engineer, one of the reasons why this won’t be the same as resurfacing is it won’t be nearly as much asphalt,” he said. “We wouldn’t be using the same weight of equipment. The theory is if we use the same equipment we do for traditional resurfacing that it probably would — the infrastructure underneath is so depressed — it might cause another sinkhole.”
Amberger said he’s not sure how much a new technique would cost in relation to traditional resurfacing, but agreed that a traditional resurfacing could damage the infrastructure underneath Ann Street. Amberger suggested that the city could use a resurfacing technique that would use lighter equipment and a lower weight of asphalt to accomplish the same goal. Work on the District 2 portion of Ann Street could be a focus after a recent round of resurfacings is finished.
If the new technique works, the result should be a smoother ride along the District 2 side of Ann Street, Manzie said.
“The goal would be that if it’s successful then, while it won’t answer the underlying and most important infrastructure needs that will still need to be addressed in the not-so-distant future, it will hopefully make the ride and commute our citizens have to endure on Ann Street much better [and] much smoother,” he said. “We won’t hear the issues about front-end alignments and tires and things of that nature until we’re in a position from a financial standpoint to completely rebuild, as we’ve done on the other sections.”
If the technique works well, Manzie said, it could be deployed in other areas of the district and city, like on “ragged” concrete streets.
“A concrete street is basically the same as a rebuild of Ann Street,” Manzie said. “It’s three times as expensive as resurfacing an asphalt street.”
This might allow the city to find the resources to replace the concrete with asphalt, he said.
“Concrete has a longer lifespan, but when it gets to the end of that lifespan, you get all the jaggedness you’re experiencing in the northern part of my district, in Joel’s [Daves] District and in Fred’s [Richardson] district,” Manzie said.
Overall, Manzie stresses patience, as the projects will take time.
“These streets didn’t present themselves in this condition overnight,” he said. “We’ve got 17 distinct communities in District 2, all of them with issues, all of them with needs [and] all of them with some antiquated amenity that needs addressing.
“So, we’re trying to think creatively,” he added. “We’re trying to look to other cities to see how they’ve responded to these challenges and to deploy best practices and unique practices where it’s most beneficial.”