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Link offers solid plan for smooth riding on Ballwin streets

Ballwin Director of Public Works Jim Link presented a report on Jan. 11 that will pave the way for an overall better level of streets through year 2035. And, Link told the board, the proposed $1 million annual budget should get the job done.

The report, entitled “Benefits of a Proactive Program,” notes that street ratings “start at 1 being the worst and 10 being a brand new street.” The goal is a rating of 7 or better, which would compare favorably with other area municipalities.

“A 10 is actually if the street is brand new,” Link said. “If you have minor reflective cracks, it’s usually in the 7-8 range, for more extensive cracking you’ll be in the 5-6 range, significant cracking 3-4 or 3-5 range, and then if you have potholes forming, it’s usually 0-3.”

Link mentioned that Ballwin’s average numbers improved dramatically from just 6.3 in 2008 and 6.2 in 2010, up to 6.8 in 2015 and 7.1 in 2018 before dropping off again to 6.7 in 2020. 

Ballwin public works asphalt – May 2020 (Source: City of Ballwin)

“We started attacking a lot of the streets that had asphalt overlay (after the 2010 6.2 low). When we started doing that, it raised our score up to 6.8. We actually borrowed a paver from Manchester and used it successfully in that period. When we tried to give it back, they didn’t want it. After that, we went from 6.7 to 7.1, and that’s when you guys (the council) bought us a new paver and we got a concrete truck,” Link said. “Between 2018 and now, as you know with streets, you can bring them up, but they’re constantly falling. So, we’re trying to keep them anywhere between a 6.7 or a 6.8 and a 7.”

Among the processes used to maintain Ballwin’s streets are microsurfacing, milling and asphalt overlay, which includes replacement and upgrading of curb ramps. Link explained that the overlay process also means removing 2 to 3 inches of asphalt, repairing the base, then repaving it with 2 to 3 inches of asphalt. That work is normally done about every 20 years.

According to Link, Ballwin’s normal concrete street replacement entails a 4-inch base and 6 inches of concrete. That process, requiring Meramec rock and sand, normally has a 25- to 30-year life cycle.  He added that the city’s crack and joint sealing program has increased in frequency; taking place roughly every two to seven years instead of every seven years as had been done previously. Then, there’s Nova chip, an ultra bonded, asphalt-wearing surface developed in the 1990s to provide superior surface treatment on heavily traveled roads, offering better friction enhancement.

“If you do a reactive plan and wait until the streets are falling apart, and you throw money at the worst streets, you’re going to pay around $100 a square yard,” Link said. “If you do a proactive maintenance strategy, between year seven and year 14, you’re only spending about $5 a square yard. So, if you do it again around year 14, you’re basically taking it from ‘good’ back up to ‘excellent.’ Around year 20, you’re ready to mill and overlay the street from the ‘fair’ to ‘good’ range, you’ll spend roughly around $60 a square yard. My annual crack sealing is approximately 15 cents a square yard. So, it’s good insurance. In short, you don’t always want to spend all your money on the worst streets.”

Curb ramp replacement was also included in the presentation. To be compliant with the American Disability Act, there are roughly 25 requirements to consider. This has drastically driven up the cost with contractors, Link said, to about $180 a square yard.

“This year, we’re actually doing all these curb ramp replacements and all the sidewalks in house,” Link said. He noted that according to the federal highway administration, “any time we alter the street or do any new construction, we are actually required to replace (the) curb ramps.”

Link said that pavement deterioration “takes a nosedive” during the 10- to 15-year mark, and “from 20 years on, it’s very poor.”

In reference to the proactive approach, Alderman Kevin Roach (Ward 2), asked what the lowest tolerable rating would be prior to replacement or remediation. Link replied that it would be about a 5 and that there should never be any that have dropped into the 3s or 4s.

“When any drop down to a 5 or a 6, we need to start dumping money into it to get it back up.” Link said. “Basically, we’re looking at a 10-year cycle here. So, a million dollars a year is plenty of money to actually keep these numbers up.”

By contrast, Link said it would take some $7.6 million to immediately bring street averages from all four wards from their current 6.6-6.8 levels to as high as a 9 level. He also said that a larger percentage of the money will likely need to go to Ward 3.

Alderman Frank Fleming (Ward 3), joked that he had no problem with that, before seriously responding that annexation likely was the cause of Ward 3’s lower quality roads.  

“The good reason for (road condition) historically is that Ward 3 tended to grow via annexation, and we have inherited a lot of streets from (St. Louis) County that weren’t (sic) in the best of shape; whereas, in other wards, you have some of the newer subdivisions and construction was better,” Fleming said. “But I know we’ll responsibly allocate it across the city.”

Ballwin public works replacing concrete slabs – May 2020 (Source: City of Ballwin)

Link said the city diverted a lot of money to concrete slabs in 2020 while pulling back a little on asphalt. Both Fleming and Roach agreed that this was preferable to them.

“My constituents don’t care for the asphalt patch on the concrete,” Roach said. “They would prefer like replacement with like materials. Just from observation, the asphalt patches do seem to come back in six months or a year with another issue.”

“The main reason we put the asphalt on was safety,” Link said. “You don’t want a hole. You don’t want something there that’s going to destroy someone’s car. You can move in and move out quickly and get to the next hole. All of the cities around us use the same practice of milling and filling, and doing asphalt patches and such.”

Link also mentioned that the annual pavement evaluation and rating process was moved from January to September or October to get it ready for a new year’s budget. That’s how 2021 began.

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