Public Comment

Measure M: Investing in Streets and Green infrastructure - Providing Multiple Benefits Now and Saving Money in the Future

By Larry Henry, Past Chairperson and current Vice-Chairperson of the Berkeley Public Works Commission
Friday October 12, 2012 - 12:28:00 PM

Berkeley’s streets are in poor shape and its 80-year old storm drain system cannot adequately handle the water-flow of major storms. The EPA is requiring Berkeley to reduce the amount of heavy metals runoff draining into San Francisco Bay during storms. To mitigate this, the City is increasing street sweeping frequency, but this is not enough to reduce heavy metal run-off to acceptable levels. To fix the street quality and stormwater management problems will require major investments over several decades and the benefits are inter-generational, thus bonding is the appropriate funding mechanism. Delaying this investment will allow these vital infrastructures to deteriorate further, leading to an increase in the final costs of the repair and effect on our environment. Comprehensive solutions require an effective proven approach tailored to the interconnected nature of the problems. 

In 2010, Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s ‘Pothole Report’ showed Berkeley tied for 86th place among the 109 cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. While Berkeley doesn’t have the worst streets in the Bay Area, it’s in the bottom quartile and the condition deteriorates rapidly without intervention. 

During the 20th Century, the City grew in size and added ‘hardscape’ asphalt sealing--causing the amount and speed of its storm runoff to increase. With more and faster runoff, average storms now often exceed the capacity of the storm drain system and result in flooding. December 2003, February 2004, and in December 2005, all saw especially heavy localized flooding in various parts of Berkeley. Surprisingly, the flooding in these three years was so severe that they were characterized as 10, 25, and 15-year levels, respectively. Combined with a high tide, the flooding in 2005 overwhelmed the City’s storm drain system and flooded West Berkeley all the way up to San Pablo Ave. 

Asphalt streets have a maximum lifetime of twenty years. Initially, they deteriorate slowly and then very rapidly towards the end of their useful life. As a result, if streets are not repaired within the first fifteen years their subsequent reconstruction costs increase by a factor of four. Berkeley has a large backlog of streets that need such reconstruction as well as many that are approaching the fifteen year mark. 

According to the most recent Pavement Conditions Index (PCI), 62% of Berkeley’s streets are currently in substandard or failed condition. If the older streets are not repaired in the next few years, road quality will deteriorate dramatically and Berkeley drivers and residents can expect increased delays as the more intensive road reconstructions are performed. 

The Berkeley Public Works Commission (PWC) which annually reviews the City’s Five Year Street Paving Plan, made the unusual recommendation to Council to stop all street asphalt ‘reconstruction and overlay’ paving in 2016, choosing instead to ‘slurry seal’ all needed streets to prevent their deteriorating further. Following the slurry sealing stop gap work, the PWC recommended that the City develop an integrated solution that would address the multiple problems facing city streets and watershed. PWC believes such a solution should be environmentally sustainable, economically efficient, and effective in the long term

Measure M dedicates bond revenues towards innovative but proven effective natural solutions that protect Berkeley residents against floods and improve street conditions. 

These solutions include: 

  • Additional streetside vegetation to capture stormwater and add visual appeal
  • Permeable pavement that lasts longer (50+ years) than asphalt, keeps cooler, permits stormwater infiltration, and calms traffic without speed bumps
  • Selective Creek restoration and rain gardens to improve habitat, water quality, and flood control
Some of the multiple benefits of sustainable streets and watershed are: 

  • Enhance rainwater infiltration
  • Cool the urban environment
  • Are cost-effective over their entire lifetime
  • Increase visual appeal
  • Reduce flooding
  • Improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduce maintenance and repair costs for streets and sidewalks
  • Improve water quality and regulatory compliance

The passage of the City’s Measure M Bond for Streets and Watershed Management Plan, will see the following 

  • Permeable pavement installation projects
  • Bioswale and rain garden installation
  • Creek and floodplain restoration
  • Storm drain trash capture devices
  • Significant improvements in the street PCI
If City infrastructure is not repaired and rehabilitated at a financially sustaining and environmentally sustainable levels, unfunded needs will continue to escalate. To begin the necessary investment in this vital infrastructure, the Berkeley City Council has placed a $30 million Streets & Watershed Bond Measure on the November 2012 ballot. This bond measure would authorize general obligation bonds to construct street improvements and associated improvements to reduce flooding and improve water quality. 

Because Berkeley has a relatively low amount of bond debt, only $80 million, we have an excellent credit rating (AA+) and with interest rates at historic lows, the cost of funding these infrastructure improvements is modest. The average annual cost over the 30-year period the bonds are outstanding would be approximately $38, $61 and $116, respectively, for a home with assessed valuations of $330,000, $700,000 and $1,000,000.