A public works department’s job is never complete.


As the seasons change, the Independence Public Works Department’s priorities will shift from the clearance of ice and snow to patching and sweeping streets and mowing of 96 properties. The department’s director, John Powell, updated the Independence City Council Monday night on what residents can expect in coming months as part of the city’s street maintenance program.


It’s a city service that residents care strongly about, according to last fall’s ETC Institute citizen survey. More than half of surveyed Independence residents listed “maintenance of city streets/buildings/facilities” as either their first, second or third choice of city services that should receive the most emphasis during the next two years. (The “overall quality of police services” actually topped the category as the first choice, but combined with all three choices, maintenance came in first overall.)


 


WHAT IS THE STREET MAINTENANCE PROGRAM?


With 560 miles of city streets in Independence, not including about 100 miles of streets that are owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Transportation, the street maintenance program aims to provide safe and smooth streets, Powell said. Most of the streets are asphalt-based, and their maintenance includes pavement and adjacent areas.


Public works crews handle major activities like patching; signs and markings; snow removal; mowing and sweeping. An outside contractor handles the overlay component of the maintenance program.


 


WHAT CAUSES STREET DETERIORATION?


Soft spots beneath asphalt mostly contribute to deterioration that crews later need to repair, Powell said. Following the winter months, the department is busy repairing potholes, which are caused through a freeze-thaw cycle. When temperatures fall below freezing during the night and rise above the freezing mark in daylight, Powell said, moisture is trapped in the asphalt. The freezing-and-expanding cycle causes the asphalt to move, eventually leading to a pothole.


 


HOW IS THE STREET MAINTENANCE DETERMINED?


The public works street maintenance division inspects streets every three years, focusing on about 200 miles each year. Crews use a standard pavement condition index in rating a street’s condition and in determining which maintenance program to use.


Pothole patching is under way right now, Powell said, so crews may focus on patching larger areas in the summer and fall months. The city patched more than 3,000 potholes in 2010, and residents may call the 24-hour pothole hotline at 816-325-7624 to report a location. Public works policy is to attempt repair at every reported pothole on city-maintained streets within one business day of receiving noti fication of a pothole, but that isn’t always possible because of inclement weather and the availability of materials.


“We do pothole patching every day that the weather allows,” Powell said. “We can’t do it if it’s really cold or really wet.”


When calling the pothole hot line, leave the exact location of the hole, the nearest cross street, your name and a telephone number so that staff may contact you if problems exist in locating the hole.


 


HOW DOES THE CITY MAINTAIN SIGNS AND MARKINGS?


The city’s collection includes the maintenance of 30,000 signs. The in-house crews are responsible for these signs, as well as painting street center lines and edge lines, stop bars, crosswalks at schools and at intersections.


About 1,800 sign replacements take place annually in Independence. Public works must follow standards on the signs’ sizes and what they say, and new regulations are emerging on how reflective signs are at nighttime, Powell said.


“That will cause us to do a lot of sign replacements in the next few years,” he said.


 


WHAT PROPERTIES DOES THE CITY MOW?


The city has 96 properties that it is responsible for mowing, including right of way areas, medians, city facilities and flood buyout properties.


 


HOW DOES STREET SWEEPING WORK?


Public works includes three street sweepers that remove mostly sand, with leaves, litter, grass clippings and other debris mixed in. These sweepers collect between 3,500 and 4,000 tons of material annually, Powell said. They work in residential areas mostly during daylight hours, and several retail areas are scheduled for street sweeping at night. The benefits of street sweeping include keeping streets safer for bicyclists and motorcyclists, improving the appearance of streets and keeping the debris and sand out of storm drainage systems, Powell said.


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If you have a street maintenance concern that you feel isn’t being adequately addressed, remember that the city of Independence maintains an online action center where residents may report a service or a request in multiple categories, including streets and traffic. That link is available by visiting the city’s main website, ci.independence.mo.us, and by clicking on the “go now” link in the center of the page. Residents also may check the status of their recent action requests.