COSTA MESA — In staying consistent with its stated aim to lower future costs, the City Council will invest millions of dollars in street repairs and leave some of the worst roads to be rebuilt later.
"The whole program has been to reconstruct; now we're shifting that effort to maintenance," said Costa Mesa City Engineer Ernesto Munoz. "It's a significant increase from previous years. The only time we've managed (this planned level of funding) is when we've been very competitive for acquiring grants."
With Orange County Transportation Authority grants focusing mainly in the next fiscal year on street capacity and traffic-control projects, Munoz said the city will invest its millions from new gas tax revenues into fixing roads that are on the brink of crumbling.
The preliminary budget allocates more than $8 million in Measure M and gas tax money for road repairs, compared with last year's $2 million. The plan is to invest the same amount in the 2012-13 budget.
Revenue from both funds have to go to infrastructure, so the money can't be used to save city jobs currently on the chopping block, city officials said.
Two-thirds of Costa Mesa's streets — about 155 miles of the city's 234 miles — are ranked in good to very good condition.
The worst streets, in poor or very poor condition, are mostly in the industrial area near John Wayne Airport.
An example of a poor street would be Red Hill Avenue, which officials estimate would take about $4 million to replace.
Costa Mesa will pursue county or state grants to cover the cost in the next couple of years, Munoz said.
At a March study session, Munoz showed a graph that illustrated a precipitous drop in road conditions when they're not fixed while still in good condition. It costs about $1.50 per square foot to maintain a street in good condition or better, and between $4.75 and $6.50 per square foot to replace a street in poor condition.
"It costs a lot less money to maintain a road than it is to replace a road," said Councilman Steve Mensinger. "We need to get caught up."
Once a road starts to break down, weather conditions quickly exacerbate the problem.
As the recession took its toll on the city's budget in the last four years, capital improvements and basic infrastructure investments fell off.
From the outset, the current council has said that infrastructure would be a major priority. A countywide program for assessing street quality is making it easier, officials said.
The city has set up a seven-year plan to improve the overall quality of Costa Mesa's streets. The city's streets are, on average, in better condition than those in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach, but worse than those in Newport Beach and Irvine.
"The first step of a 12-step program to maintaining an infrastructure is you have to admit you have a problem and come up with a plan to deal with that problem," Mensinger quipped. "Good government is addressing things with a plan."
Most of Costa Mesa's alleys are in poor or very poor condition, but the city has earmarked little money over the next two years to fix them.