Chip sealing will resume

Road repairs not keeping up with needs, city manager says

KINGMAN - After a year of going without, the Kingman Public Works Department will resume its chip sealing operations this year, albeit to a much lesser degree than usual.

According to City Manager Jack Kramer, the city may have up to $250,000 to spend on chip sealing roads this year. However, that figure is less than a third of the $800,000 the city used to annually budget, meaning only the widely-trafficked roads are likely to see any actual sealing.

"It's not going to cover what we planned on," Kramer said. "Last year we didn't do any. This year I budgeted, but revenues are down again, so we're going to try to do up to $250,000.

"We have to," Kramer added. "There are a couple streets that are pretty bad, and we don't want to lose them."

Chip sealing is a method of street resurfacing where asphalt chips are used to fill in and waterproof streets, renewing the roadway and giving them temporary protection from winter ice formation, one of the primary causes of potholes. According to Public Works Director Rob Owen, the city has been chip sealing its streets every year for more than two decades.

Except last year, when sky-high gas prices caused motorists across the state to cut back on nonessential driving, which subsequently caused the state's gas tax receipts to plummet. Gas tax receipts are one of the key components of the state's Highway User Revenue Fund, a government fund which is routinely divvied up between all Arizona cities and towns and used to pay for street maintenance projects.

The city's share of HURF revenue is already down more than 13 percent from the same time last year, according to a Feb. 2 budget report from Kingman Finance Director Coral Loyd. And that's unlikely to change for the better anytime soon, based on comments made last Friday at a meeting of the state transportation board in Bullhead City, where the Arizona Department of Transportation's chief financial officer John McGee cited the "absolutely astounding drop off in revenues" HURF experienced in January alone.

"For the month of January, we had total HURF collections of $104.6 million. This was down 4.1 percent from a year ago January; it as also down 8.1 percent from our forecast," McGee said. "Year-to-date collections now total $730.3 million, that is down 6 percent on an unadjusted basis, a little over 7 percent on an adjusted basis."

McGee predicted the final HURF collections by the end of the fiscal year in June would total $1.25 billion, fully $100 million below ADOT's forecast, and the lowest level of collections since FY2005. McGee said HURF collections were down for almost every collection category, but he noted the worst hits came from the fund's two biggest sources, gas taxes and vehicle licensing taxes, which have plummeted over the past 18 months.

"It's just been almost a straight downward trend," McGee said. "What we're looking for is some leveling off of that downward trend. Once we start seeing that, we'll probably be getting a little bit more hopeful that maybe we're hitting the bottom."

But even if the revenue drops do level out, that won't bring back the $800,000 Kramer said Kingman needs to complete its annual chip sealing. Even if the city manages to avoid further budget raids from the state legislature, he said, the chip seal money has to come from somewhere, lest Kingman's roadways start to resemble Swiss cheese.

"The City Council will have some tough decisions to make if it stays at this point," Kramer said. "The amount of HURF funds that have dropped, if it stays flat ... that's a loss of revenue we need for pavement restoration. There's no other revenue source for it."

Owen said he and streets superintendent Blake Chapman were working on finalizing the list of streets that will receive chip sealing this year. While he acknowledged that some smaller local streets were definitely in bad condition, he said the tight budget would only leave funds available for major arterials such as Stockton Hill Road, Hualapai Mountain Road, Gordon Drive and Bank Street.

"This is a bad year for potholes here, and that's really a direct result of not doing the chip sealing program we've done for years," Owen said. "Now that we're not doing it ... you can notice a difference in the condition of the roads."

Kramer said the city will award bids for the chip seal materials and labor over the coming weeks, with the sealing itself tentatively set to begin sometime in May.