Government

Should local-option sales tax for street repairs be continued?

Work continues on O Avenue NW as part of the City of Cedar Rapids’ Paving for Progress road improvement program in northwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Work continues on O Avenue NW as part of the City of Cedar Rapids’ Paving for Progress road improvement program in northwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As Cedar Rapids leaders reflect on the halfway point of a 10-year, voter-approved street repair initiative called Paving for Progress, there’s some indication voters may be asked to continue the 1-cent local-option sales tax in a few years.

Before the initiative began, officials projected it would take $50 million a year for 10 years to restore the city’s detiorated road network. The tax is only generating $18 million a year, meaning it will take years to get caught up, City Council member Scott Olson said Tuesday during a presentation on progress from the first five years.

“More than likely, hopefully the public will understand if we come back when this gets near the end and ask for an additional 10 years that it is going to take a couple of decades to catch back up with all of the street maintenance that was deferred for years and years,” Olson said.

Before Paving for Progress, the city had been investing on average $5.5 million a year on street repairs.

The current sales tax was adopted after three tries — and different incarnations — in November 2013. It went into effect in July 2014 and expires in June 2024.

By 2024, $185 million will have been invested in street upgrades, and 60 percent of residents should be within a mile’s walking distance of a repaired road, said Doug Wilson, the city’s Paving for Progress manager.

Among the highlights of Paving for Progress: $80 million in investment over five years, 44 linear miles of roadways improved, and 134 projects completed, including 66 percent residential and 33 percent arterial streets.

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This includes reconstruction of some of Cedar Rapids worst streets, such as parts of O Avenue NW, Oakland Road NE and Northwood Drive NE.

Since the program began in earnest in 2015, overall road conditions have improved slightly with the proportion of roads considered good or very good increasing from 49 percent to 55 percent of the road network.

“We are trying to get out there so everyone can see the impact,” Olson said. “We might not get to their street in the first 10 years, but hopefully if they like what they are seeing in other streets, they’ll come back.”

Street repair was identified as the No. 1 issue facing the city in a 2018 citizen survey, and street conditions were one of the biggest issues for voters and candidates in the 2017 city election cycle.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart praised the progress, which may be hard to notice midwinter, and vowed the city would continue its best effort to respond to the scourge of potholes caused by the severe winter weather.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, and we have a lot more to do,” Hart said.

Wilson urged people to contact the streets division to report potholes.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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