San Jose spends millions on road repair but some neighborhoods are left out
A stretch of Elizabeth Street near Laine's Baits in Alviso was repaired in the summer of 2019. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

After San Jose voters in 2018 approved a bond measure for $300 million to “repave streets and potholes in the worst condition,” the city repaved nearly 300 of its 2,400 miles of roadways last year — that’s one out of every eight miles, or more than 12 percent of the total.

“We’re paving more than we ever have,” said Councilmember Johnny Khamis — who pressed to earmark nearly half of the $650 million bond issue for road maintenance.

With the inclusion of 2018’s Measure T funds, the city estimates it will spend an average of $87 million a year repaving streets for the next eight years.

But a year after the city’s Department of Transportation rolled out its nine-year plan to repair all of the city’s 1,490 miles of residential streets, some of the roads that have been in the worst condition the longest haven’t been repaved — and won’t be getting any attention in the next three years either, according to maps on the department’s website.

“After fifty four years of neglect, I don’t understand how our streets don’t qualify for these improvements,” said Dick Santos, a prominent Alviso native.

Santos says the city has done the bare minimum to keep up Alviso’s roads that were already built when San Jose took over in 1968. He says he’s fought with city officials for years to get sidewalks, curbs and storm drains in one of the last places in the city that still uses ditches to drain rain water.

The neighborhood’s residential streets won’t be repaved until at least 2023. And the first major road project in the area won’t come until 2021 when portions of Grand Boulevard, Los Esteros Road and Zanker Road are repaved followed by a small segment of Gold Street and Spreckles Avenue in 2022.

Colin Heyne, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said San Jose has nearly 400 miles of local and neighborhood streets rated in poor condition — but they are spread out, in small and large segments, across the city. Deploying the city’s resources first to those disparate locations — including Alviso — would have created “logistical difficulties” and increased costs.

Instead, Heyne said, the city’s local streets were divided up into 135 geographically contiguous pavement maintenance zones to “support efficient planning and delivery of projects, maximize the amount of work completed at one time within a neighborhood and provide geographic spread of pavement maintenance across the city.”

To determine which zones got priority, the department considered the number of public attractions — such as schools, libraries and community centers — as well as the number of miles in need of reconstruction, maintenance history and prescribed schedules. Heyne said his department also weighed input from the community and lawmakers when deciding which projects to do first.

“Leveraging Measure T with other funding sources to come up with a comprehensive maintenance plan for all 1,490 miles of local and neighborhood streets, while prioritizing zones in the worst shape, allows us to target areas in the worst condition while also preserving areas before they fall into disrepair and cost the city more money,” Heyne said. “DOT’s goal is to complete this maintenance plan by 2028.”

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez raised concerns about some neighborhoods with the worst streets being left behind if Measure T didn’t take maintenance history into account when prioritizing which streets to repave first.

“Consideration of the deferred maintenance history and outstanding backlog issues will focus attention on assets that are in greatest disrepair and in dire need of investment,” Jimenez wrote in an August 2018 memo.

Still, using zones is a more efficient way for the city to maintain its network of roads, Heyne said.

“It’s important to understand that not every street in a given zone will be in the same condition,” said Heyne. “We are prioritizing Measure T funding based on the average condition of all streets in a zone, which may mean streets in fair condition get maintained, because the zone they are in ranks poorly. Meanwhile, another street in poor condition may not be prioritized, because it sits in a zone in relatively good condition.”

Nevertheless, some neighborhoods were left out of the first three years of the nine-year plan. That includes Alviso, the bayside neighborhood whose residents often feel neglected since being annexed by San Jose more than five decades ago.

Heyne said all of Alviso’s residential streets are within the same pavement maintenance zone and it simply wasn’t selected for the first four years of the current program. But, he added, the area “will receive pavement maintenance when that zone is selected in a future year.”

“This zone was not selected for maintenance within the next three years as other zones in the council district and the city were in worse overall shape,” he said.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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