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Milwaukee digs in on potholes

Traffic passes a pothole at the corner of North Broadway and East Michigan streets in Milwaukee. Legislators are pushing a bill that would repeal state law that local governments are liable for injuries and damages sustained from highway defects, such as potholes. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Traffic passes a pothole at the corner of North Broadway and East Michigan streets in Milwaukee recently. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

The budget for a quick-fix strategy for Milwaukee roads has grown by millions since 2013, and the city’s engineer wants more money before killing the program after 2017.

High impact paving lets city crews mill roads and then place 2 inches of asphalt pavement on top. Construction takes only a few days because it sidesteps curb, gutter, sidewalk and major utility work.

The city started using the strategy in 2013 with a $1 million budget. That grew to $3 million in 2014 and $7 million for 2015. City Engineer Jeff Polenske, while speaking Thursday to Milwaukee’s Capital Improvements Committee, said if the program continues to work, he wants to bump the budget up to $10.5 million in 2016 and then $10 million in 2017.

“We’re coming off a couple of years of concerns over potholes,” Polenske said. “Last year was a rough year for us, with a high amount of calls, about 70 to 75 a day. The solution is a high-end resurfacing that has a far greater improvement throughout the city than focusing on more costly and time-intensive projects.”

Schedule changes

The city of Milwaukee is making some changes to the way it schedules roadwork and tracks road conditions.

Repaving priorities will be announced two years in advance, rather than one, in order to plan projects and bidding in advance of new budgets and to give residents and utility companies more time to prepare for the construction.

The city will collect data used to rate road conditions for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation every five years, rather than every seven.

— Matt Taub

High impact paving costs are $1 million for every 3.6 miles, as opposed to $1 million for every mile for more exhaustive resurfacing and reconstruction projects. Roads are projected to last five to 10 years after the paving work.

Alderman Nik Kovac, a member of the Capital Improvements Committee, said the program is an innovative approach between merely filling a pothole and doing a full reconstruction. But he cautioned that there is a trade-off.

“We can’t do this indefinitely,” Kovac said. “It’s almost half our [local] road budget, and we actually will fall further behind in the big picture. At some point, these roads need to be ripped up.”

That, Polenske said, is why high impact paving will end after 2017.

“I would suggest just for a few years to have an expanded improvement, then fall back into the typical local program,” Polenske said. “It isn’t as long-term as reconstructing a roadway.”

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About Matt Taub, [email protected]

Matt Taub is the Milwaukee city beat reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or 414-225-1820.

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