“Microsurfacing” on Durant Avenue this year has made for a smoother ride. Photo: City of Berkeley
“Microsurfacing” on Durant Avenue this year has made for a smoother ride. Photo: City of Berkeley

With the help of Measure M, the city of Berkeley is making strides to repair street conditions and add innovative “green infrastructure” projects around town that are helping improve stormwater quality, city staffers told the Berkeley City Council earlier this week.

Tuesday night, staff presented an update on Measure M to council. The measure was approved by voters in November 2012 to take a more aggressive approach to street paving, and also build capacity for watershed-related projects.

Officials said it was a report by City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan in 2011 that helped bring the sorry state of Berkeley’s streets to light. Hogan found that Berkeley’s streets had an average score of 58 on the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), in the “at risk” range but approaching “fair.”

By 2018, as a result of Measure M and other efforts by the city to address the problem, staff believes Berkeley will have boosted its score to 65, which is in the “fair” range of 60-69.

“It may not on its face seem like a significant increase, but it really is,” Sean Rose, manager of engineering, told council Tuesday night. Rose said the average score for the nine Bay Area counties is 66, and that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission would like cities to reach a score of 75, which is in the “good” range on the PCI.

He said Hogan had presented various scenarios in her report regarding what it would take for Berkeley to get to a 75, but that this hadn’t been the goal of Measure M.

“We knew that we wouldn’t be getting to 75,” Rose said. “We knew that the funding wouldn’t be there for that.”

Measure M gave the city $30 million over five years to improve street and watershed conditions. The city has paved 17 miles and spent about $14 million since 2013, and been able to approximately double the number of miles it paves annually, Rose said.

By the end of fiscal year 2018, according to the staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting, 51 miles — or nearly a quarter of the city’s street network — will have been repaved. Rose said Tuesday that about 30 of those miles are in residential neighborhoods.

By contrast, from 2009-13 — the five-year period prior to Measure M — Berkeley was only able to repave about 17 miles.

Click the image to see Tuesday night’s PDF presentation. Source: City of Berkeley

The city has also been working with a number of new pavement “treatments,” including microsurfacing, rubberized chip seal, surface reconstruction and slurry seal, which can be more cost effective than traditional methods such as full-depth reconstruction, Rose told council.

Rose said the city’s $30 million investment to improve pavement conditions now will save the city approximately $15 million in repair costs later. Put another way, the more a street deteriorates, the more it costs to fix down the road because its condition declines more rapidly the older it gets.

Council also got an overview of the “green infrastructure” projects that have been completed around town, such as the permeable pavers on Allston Way and the bioswale at Presentation Park, at Allston and California Street. The city has installed a 1,000-cubic-foot cistern at Milvia and Eunice streets, and has plans for an even larger cistern on Woolsey. (See the list of planned projects on page 3 of the staff report.)

An estimated $8 million of Measure M money is set to be spent on green infrastructure projects, which help the local watershed by filtering stormwater and can also help regulate its flow. Going forward, the city plans to install interpretive signage at project locations to help the public better understand their function.

Tracy Clay, a civil engineer hired by the city six months ago, told council that Berkeley has not yet been successful in seeking watershed-related grant funding, but that new Proposition 1 Water Bond grants should be coming on line soon, and “look very promising.”

The proposed 5-year paving plan, as of September 2015. Click the map to see a list of the proposed streets to be paved. (The latest plan has not yet been ratified by council.) Source: City of Berkeley

Staff and council credited the Public Works and Transportation commissions, as well as the Community Environmental Advisory Commission and the Commission on Disability for their work throughout the Measure M process.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be here right now having this conversation,” said Phil Harrington, acting Public Works director.

Council members expressed concern about what will happen once the Measure M money runs out, and how Berkeley will be able to keep its streets in shape.

“Are we going to be able to hold our own,” asked Councilman Laurie Capitelli, “or are we going to start going downhill?”

Rose said the city is projecting it will be able to maintain its PCI in the mid-60s, but will not be able to increase it significantly once the Measure M money dries up. Added Harrington, the new pavement treatments the city is using “are designed to maintain so that we don’t really lose the type of ground we did in the past” as far as PCI.

Rose noted that many of Berkeley’s residential streets had very low PCI before the November 2012 election.

“We’ve gotten to a lot of those with Measure M,” he said, adding, “There will be a lot more after Measure M that still need to be done.”

Capitelli also asked about the “waved” pavement on University Avenue near the marina, which is not slated to be repaved until 2018, and asked if the bumps will be fixed.

“It’s a high priority, it seems, for many people,” replied Rose.

University Avenue near the marina is slated to be repaved in 2018. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Councilwoman Linda Maio said she feels proud every time she sees the permeable pavers on Allston Way, and described it as a flagship project for the city. She said she, too, is concerned about the continuing degradation of the streets, and wondered how the California drought would affect how the city designs its green infrastructure projects.

Harrington said the city is able to redesign its cisterns for storage and flood protection by creating gates downstream that allow it to control the water that does come in.

He also noted, in response to a question from Councilman Darryl Moore about what puts the most stress on city streets, that it is in fact water that gets into the subbase and causes cracking that creates the most significant problems.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín said he appreciated that the city is working with different pavement treatments to save money, and also making significant investments in its green infrastructure. And nearly doubling the amount of miles paved each year, he said, “is really an incredible accomplishment.”

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said she sees Measure M as a great example of civic engagement.

“I love Measure M,” she said. “And I love it not only because people are actually seeing the city do something, but also because it is a model of very productive work between our citizen commissions and our staff. As far as I’m concerned, it’s as good as it gets.”

Read more about street paving and Measure M in Berkeley.

How the California-wide drought is affecting Berkeley (10.20.15)
Berkeley to repave 11 miles of streets by October (06.09.15)
Op-ed: The decay of Berkeley’s infrastructure (05.11.15)
Berkeley Bicycle Plan workshop draws a crowd (04.28.15)
In potholed city, which Berkeley streets will be paved? (02.21.15)
Real weather in Berkeley – time to go storm chasing (12.12.14)
Floods, outages keep Berkeley busy as storm hits (12.11.14)
Storm blog: Water mains break in Berkeley, Ashby expected to re-open by midnight (12.10.14)
Op-ed: How come my street isn’t getting fixed? (12.05.14)
Flood advisory for Alameda County, Bay Area, power outage in West Berkeley (12.02.14)
Old pipe breaks, closes Grant Street in Berkeley; 40 customers without water (08.15.14)
Berkeley installs first permeable pavers downtown (08.08.14)
City Manager Christine Daniel details Berkeley’s finances (11.01.13)
Have your say on improving Berkeley’s streets, watershed (09.30.13)
Flood advisory for Alameda County, Bay Area, power outage in West Berkeley (12.02.14)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...