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Dallas Streets Are Not Going to Get Better Next Year

Dallas streets are bad. It's axiomatic at this point. When the city asked residents what it should prioritize in its new budget, the resounding first choice was road repair. The city's awkwardly beautiful video explaining next year's budget touts the extra $16 million to be spent on "improving streets." Everyone supports fewer potholes, but the hard truths about what it would actually take to get Dallas roads and alleys to the point of being acceptable show both how far behind the city is and how unlikely it seems that it will ever recover.

The math is not nearly as complicated as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings made it seem Wednesday. Seventy-six percent of city streets are currently acceptable. The city wants 87 percent of streets to be acceptable. Bridging that gap will cost about $900 million, according to the city manager's office. In order to "eat the elephant one bite at a time," as City Manager AC Gonzalez calls it, city staff has recommend spending an additional $90 million per year in addition to what the city already spends on streets to improve them 1 percent at a time over the course of a decade. The improvements are proposed to begin after the city's next bond election.

In the interim, Gonzalez's initial city budget proposal suggests spending an extra $16 million on top of the money (about $90 million) that would've typically been spent on streets. The $16 million is not enough to maintain  the streets at today's level — that would cost about $45 million — it would merely slow down the estimated 2 percent street deterioration that would happen without any additional repair budget.

That no improvement, however incremental, was going to happen on Dallas streets during the next fiscal year seemed to come as a surprise to the mayor. 

“I mean, I thought that we were holding our own with our current budget and that 16 million starts to work and get us better,” Rawlings said. “And it’s not true I guess.”

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Rawlings seemed genuinely depressed by the news.

"I don't think this is an elephant," the mayor said, referring to Gonzalez earlier comment. "This is a Sisyphean task."

Actually fixing the streets seemed like it could take decades, Rawlings said. He asked city staff to come up with the amount that would need to be added to the budget to at least keeps streets as bad as they are now over the coming year. After lunch, Assistant City Manager Mark McDonald had a number — $7.3 million.

“Right now, with the current budget, citizens should expect some continued streets degradation in the coming year,” council member Scott Griggs said, before urging that the city add more money to the streets budget.

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