WALLA WALLA - The number one complaint by the citizens of Walla Walla to city officials is about deteriorating public streets -- not failing water and sewer lines.
But the deteriorating condition of Walla Walla's streets is related to the conditions of the city's hundreds of miles of underground water and sewer lines and the street construction policies dealing with work on those lines, officials report.
Every time work is required on an underground line -- and the city points out that 82 percent of its lines are failing and need work now -- that work often requires what is called a narrow patch cut in the asphalt.
In a narrow patch cut, private contractors, utility workers or city crews cut through a strip of asphalt, sometimes only a few feet wide, to get to underground lines.
Over the years, those narrow patch cuts have lead to miles and miles of cracked and bumpy surfaces, resulting from different sections of asphalt wearing unevenly from the original street. To exacerbate the problem, funding for chip sealing has been inadequate over the years, according to Public Works officials.
In the proposed Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, the Public Works Department will ban narrow patch cuts. If a public or private crew is working on either a sewer or water line, the patch cut must extend from the center of the street to the corresponding curb. And in projects requiring work on both sewer and water lines, the patch cut will span the complete width of the road from curb to curb.
In addition, the city will establish a five-year moratorium against patch cutting of newly resurfaced streets.
Similar moratoriums and bans have been approved in numerous cities across the United States, including Spokane, Spokane Valley and Spokane County.
According to city officials, if their plan is approved, the city could begin work this year by replacing large sections of failing underground water and sewer lines on Bryant Avenue and Bonsella, Palouse and Melrose streets, after which those streets will be repaved and be under a five-year patch cut moratorium.
On Thursday, the city of Walla Walla will host the first of four public meetings for the proposed Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, held at The Center At The Park, 720 Sprague Street, Jefferson Park, 5:30 p.m. To help our readers understand the issues surrounding this plan, the Union-Bulletin is running a series of short articles this week dealing with different aspects of it.