Paso Robles City Council OKs road repairs

The Paso Robles City Council voted for its long-awaited street repairs Tuesday night, but not without some debate.

The argument was over whether studies were needed before asphalt can be laid over cracks and potholes.

Councilman John Hamon led questioning about the engineering contract of up to $150,000 to assess the structural base of city streets before work is done to repair them.

“There’s so much we can do right off the bat; we don’t need to be spending money on another consultant,” Hamon said.

Councilman Fred Strong later likened bypassing the engineering study to getting a cavity filled without first getting X-rays.

However, Mayor Duane Picanco was also against the study, saying, “I don’t think I need an engineer to tell me my streets are in bad shape.”

Many of Paso Robles’ roads are noticeably cracked after years of deferred maintenance during the recession and state funding takeaways. In November, voters opted to add a half-cent to their sales tax for 12 years to fix the roads.

Ultimately, the council voted 3-2, with Hamon and Picanco dissenting, to hire the engineer at city staff’s urging. Staff said the city needs to know what’s being repaired, because fixes won’t last over shabby foundations.

“The city has received a gift from the citizens in the (additional) sales tax, and we need to be good stewards of that,” Councilman Ed Steinbeck said. “Projects are not simple anymore. We all see potholes ... but we don’t know what’s underneath.”

In a separate decision, the council unanimously agreed not to take out a loan to get started on road fixes. Instead, council members agreed to wait for the new tax money to come in.

“My initial reaction was let’s get as much done as possible — let’s tear up all the streets and fix them,” Councilman Steve Martin said. “But we can’t do all of these roads at one time.”

In fact, city staff previously said it would take a staggering $80 million to repair the 150 collective miles of city streets. The city’s half-cent sales tax increase, which goes into effect April 1, is expected to generate $3.5 million annually for 12 years.

The council is interviewing residents to serve on a seven-member committee tasked with making sure the money is spent on roads.

Hamon and Picanco argued that while the overall fixes are pricey, getting out and laying some asphalt immediately would be showing a good-faith effort to voters who approved the tax.

One resident illustrated the immediate need by mentioning a stretch of Airport Road on the city’s east side where drivers have been swerving into the opposite lane of traffic to avoid giant potholes.

“With Airport (Road), even if it means putting a Band-Aid on it now to get us started, it wouldn’t be a waste,” Hamon said.

Finally, the council agreed to begin the repairs in a 15-mile phase of main thoroughfares and some residential streets, but it said the list could change depending on what the engineer said.

Reach Tonya Strickland at 781-7858. Stay updated by following @tstrickland on Twitter and checking out facebook.com/SLOTribuneNorthCounty.