Thursday, May 29, 2008

ROW vs. Wading

It seems like our potholes and rough street repairs form pools sufficient for wading or even rowing. And that lack of quality has the City Council's attention.

The Tacoma City Council Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday (5-28-08) afternoon discussed a new, state-of-the-art policy aimed at preserving Tacoma's investment in roads.

As part of the City's overall direction to improve streets, the Council committee is too considering how utility cuts for access for maintenance, repairs and installation of new services impacts these roads. Cuts and trenches are made for Internet and TV cable, telephone lines, electric power lines, natural gas pipelines, potable water, storm and sanitary sewer collection.

City Public Works/Streets provided some estimates for how much the proposed changes would impact customers. The most common denominator is a mid-block (as opposed to corner lot) residential property needing to replace a 6" diameter sanitary sewer lateral. The homeowner is responsible for all costs from his/her home, including the riser, to the sewer lateral. The assumption is that the street is 30' wide and existing asphalt is 4" deep. Following are the costs for street repair, not repairs to plumbing!
The standard practice is for 1' cutback. That requires an estimated $780 to repair.

The proposed rule is a 3' cutback & half street that must be repaved if disturbed. Since the cutback includes both halves of the street as this example has the sanitary sewer on the opposite lane, both sides are disturbed. Estimated cost of street repairs: $2,310.
Net difference between existing rule and proposed rule: $1,530, a 196% increase.

Although Tacoma Public Works (other than the streets department) and Tacoma Public Utilities are impacted by these requirements, none attended AND participated in the discussion of the impact of this proposal on customers. Only Comcast and Puget Sound Energy commented. All these public and private utilities might be expected to be disinterested in the imposition of such rules. They could be expected to pass those costs to all the ratepayers in the utility area, or have the costs accrue to the homeowners and not pass through the utility at all.

However, such is not the case with Puget Sound Energy. Reported earlier in this advocacy blog are reports on the expected declaration of the Tacoma metro area as a non-attainment area for PM2.5. The chief culprit for the region's poor air quality is conceded to be wood smoke from residential fireplaces or older, inefficient wood stoves. There are two likely fixes for the air quality problem. One is to subsidize the replacement of old stoves for homeowners.

The other is to assist in the conversion of homes to the most efficient fuel - natural gas or electricity. (There are strategic ramifications ((conservation and fish)) for increased demand of electricity as a fuel.) However, this street replacement rule will place substantial costs on homeowners desiring natural gas. For instance, Seattle adopted a similar street replacement rule about 18+ months ago. Since then, PSE has an 80% reduction in new customers (forcing even more of the market to electricity.) Thus, the unintended consequences of the proposed right-of-way (ROW) restoration is to block natural gas as an economical alternative to remedy the poor air quality of the region.

The Chamber spoke to the Council's committee members, about this particular unintended consequence. Additional points that were made were:
  1. The ROW replacement should be relevant to the disruption, not to a larger than necessary area;

  2. The ROW replacement should not be a defacto street renovation/maintenance program;
  3. The ROW replacement program should not seek to place costs on the utility ratepayer for costs that are the responsibility of general government to maintain streets;

  4. Public and private enterprises should be treated the same (a level playing field) in all requirements as to the program including fees and permitting.

It is the sense of this blogger that the Council's Environment and Public Works Committee wishes to recommend an aggressive ROW restoration program. The fairness of that program and the impacts on individual home and business owners and each utility's ratebase of customers remains to be seen.

No comments:

Post a Comment