Last summer, this newspaper gave city council a grade of “F” for ignoring Sarnia’s crumbling roads.
Not a single residential street was resurfaced in 2015.
What’s more, 25% of the entire road network – a staggering 104 kilometres of broken and patched streets – had reached the end of its design life and should be ripped up and repaired immediately, city engineers say.
But what really burned was not the current sorry state of our streets, but the utter lack of a plan going forward to address the problem.
So what have councillors done this year?
Nothing, again. At budget they allocated a scant $100,000 more for all roads and actually cut the pittance available for urban street repairs, those potholed wonders that people actually live on.
Such a la-de-da disinterest in something as basic as road maintenance is an abdication of responsibility, to my mind.
And it seems I’m not alone.
This spring, city hall asked the citizens of Sarnia to rate their municipal services. The survey, completed by nearly 600 people of all ages and geographic locations, listed 19 services paid for with local tax dollars – things like sewers and snow removal. The results were released last week.
Not surprisingly, residents said their number one service priority is good fire and rescue protection. The second most important of 19 services? Street repair and maintenance.
(Rounding out the top five, by the way, were water and sewers, parks and playgrounds, and stormwater drainage and flooding).
And when asked what they are “dissatisfied” with, Sarnians listed the lack of street repairs as their biggest beef, and by very wide margin.
Finally, the survey asked what services should get more tax dollars. Once again, street repairs won hands down. In fact, it was in a class by itself with a whopping 67% of respondents calling for more money to be spent on roads. Just 2% wanted a smaller street budget.
To be fair, the city is under a lot of financial pressure right now. And it does spend a little repairing the most damaged sections of arterial road to prevent getting sued.
But for some reason, most current councillors don’t see street repair as a pressing priority. Instead, they talk about things like job creation and economic development – which, of course, are largely beyond their control.
Good roads are a basic responsibility of municipal government. Sarnia’s failure to stay ahead of the curve is creating a serious infrastructure deficit, one that’s being kicked down the road for some future council to worry about.
They asked for public input. The people have spoken. Let’s see if they listen.