There is a clash between the state paving policy and local priorities.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The state's offering to pay 80 percent of the cost to pave a state route inside a city is a good start.
But when you can't afford the other 20 percent, does any of it really matter?
That's the question the city's deputy director of public works, Carmen Conglose Jr., is asking.
At issue is the Ohio Department of Transportation's 3-year-old urban paving policy. The policy says ODOT pays 80 percent of paving on state routes inside city boundaries. Cities must pay the remaining 20 percent.
Youngstown is confronted for the first time with deciding whether to provide the required percentage on a proposed 80-20 ODOT project.
Conglose has strong objections to the policy. Many cities, including Youngstown, either can't afford 20 percent or face gutting their local paving budgets to pay it, he said.
The policy is meaningless if cities can't afford the percentage, Conglose said. The policy amounts to letting ODOT off the hook for its roads inside cities, he said.
Planning to protest
He will take his protests to city council next week. Councilmen will decide whether to put $150,000 toward a $750,000 ODOT paving project on U.S. Route 422, from the Girard city line to Himrod Avenue. ODOT, which controls state and U.S. routes such as 422, will drop its offer if council doesn't take the deal by March 10.
Other cities in ODOT's District 4, which includes Mahoning and Trumbull counties, have mixed views on the state policy. Some are saving money years in advance of proposed projects to pay the percentage.
There was a day when there was no issue.
ODOT paid for all paving of state routes inside cities through the 1980s. That policy started varying by ODOT district in the early 1990s, however.
ODOT isn't obligated under law to pave state routes inside cities. In District 4, past ODOT administrations argued they didn't have the money and simply abandoned state routes, leaving all maintenance to cities, Conglose said. Meanwhile, other ODOT districts kept paving state routes that ran through big cities, such as Cleveland, he said.
The practice led Youngstown to spend $295,000 of its own money between 1994 and 2001 on paving sections of seven state routes.
Offer for city
Recently ODOT offered to do the Youngstown project on Route 422, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The kicker is the 20 percent. The estimated project cost is $742,000, so the city's share would be $148,400.
That share, however, would make up nearly 20 percent of the city's annual street paving budget of about $800,000 -- on just one project.
With that $148,000, the city could pave more than a dozen crumbling side streets or rough sections of major roads such as Logan, Mahoning or South avenues, Conglose said.
He also lashed out at what he calls the inherent unfairness of having an "urban" paving policy.
Everybody pays the gas tax that funds state paving, but only city residents have to pitch in. The state continues paying 100 percent for paving its routes inside unincorporated areas.
Conglose said he is so mad about the policy that he asked the state to repay the $295,000 the city spent when ODOT "closed its eyes and turned its back on the city."
That won't be happening, said Bill Murphy, planning administrator for ODOT District 4.
Murphy said he understands that it's a difficult choice picking between spending available money on state or local projects. But ODOT has funding constraints, too, he said.
The urban policy went through a long and extensive development process before it was adopted, Murphy said. Officials around the state agreed that the policy is the best way to fund paving and standardize the process, he said.
Some are OK with policy
Indeed, some local officials have no quarrel with the policy.
Campbell Mayor Jack Dill doesn't, though the city hasn't had paving work done to its state routes since the 80-20 policy started. Dill called the program probably the fairest way to dole out money and projects. The criteria for which roads are state priorities are fair, and 80 percent is about the best deal out there, he said.
"Everybody should have to pay something," he said.
Girard Mayor James J. Melfi hasn't had an 80-20 project done either, but he also agrees that the policy and percentage is fair, despite the financial struggles of cities.
Girard would love if the state offered a program to pave Route 422 with a 20-percent deal, he said.
He admits, however, that his view demonstrates the clash between the state policy and local priorities.
Route 422 is Girard's main road through the city and downtown. A newly paved main drag has obvious benefits.
Melfi said other communities, like Youngstown, certainly have more to consider.
Struthers would have to borrow money if the state proposed paving Route 616, said Mayor Dan Mamula.
Cities also must pay for items related to paving, such as curbs and sidewalks. The required state percentage makes it that much harder to pay for such projects, he said.
"It is a bite on small communities," Mamula said. "This one is a real bugaboo. It's definitely of concern to us."
Warren also would have a hard time paying for curbs and sidewalks because of the required percentage, said Bill Totten, assistant city engineer.
Warren has been saving money the past couple years while awaiting an ODOT urban paving project on Route 422 in 2005, he said. The city couldn't come up with the percentage if ODOT wanted to do a project immediately, like in Youngstown, he said.
Canfield, too, has saved money for several years to provide a percentage for a 2004 project, said city Manager Charles Tieche.
The city spends $250,000 to $300,000 a year paving city streets, which means resurfaced streets every 10 years. Providing 20 percent for a state project from one year would throw off the city's schedule, Tieche said.