Editorials

KC didn't vote for more potholes last year. City Hall shouldn't just change the rules

This is how potholes are formed

In the winter, potholes are a constant challenge for drivers. This video from the Utah Department of Transportation shows how potholes form because of winter weather.
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In the winter, potholes are a constant challenge for drivers. This video from the Utah Department of Transportation shows how potholes form because of winter weather.

The Kansas City Council is poised to make a serious error Thursday — one that could mean more potholes and dangerous roads in the community.

The issue involves the way the city rates the overall condition of its streets. Under current policy, the city judges its streets using a zero-to-100 scale — the higher the number, the better.

Kansas City’s current road condition target is 60, which is a system that “needs repairs and improvements.”

Meeting the target is important. If the rating dips below 60 for three straight years, City Hall must switch to a different and potentially more costly accounting system. Oh — and its roads will be bad, too.

One way to avoid both problems is to actually fix the streets. At City Hall, though, there’s another answer: Lower the target from 60 to 40.

The council is expected to vote on a resolution to do that Thursday.

It’s appalling. Rather than meet what most residents would consider the minimum standard for the quality of its streets, the council is set to lower the bar by a full third.

A rating of 40 is considered “poor” — and 39 is “very poor.” By one standard, a 40 rating for residential streets suggests the need for immediate repairs.

Not to worry, city officials say. It’s an accounting maneuver. The lower rating actually reflects “usability” and better technology. They’ll still meet a higher standard.

If that’s true, there’s no need to lower the target number. But something else is at work: a wavering commitment to maintaining and improving existing streets in Kansas City.

That motive is clear after reading the fact sheet with the resolution now on the table. If the measure passes, “there may be an indirect impact on the amount of funds expended for street preservation and maintenance,” it says.

Well, yes. If you only need to maintain poor streets, you’ll spend less on them.

That simply isn’t what Kansas Citians want or deserve. Voters approved higher taxes a year ago with the promise of improvements to neighborhood streets and sidewalks, not glitzy new projects.

The message could not have been more clear: New pavement. Fewer cracks and potholes. Curbs and gutters in good condition. Kansas City appears close to breaking that promise.

Some council members believe the new, lower standard has to be approved Thursday, before the start of the new budget year. That, too, is regrettable. A major policy change deserves more discussion before it’s locked in place.

If there is a deadline, though, council members should consider a second resolution promising to explain how and why if any streets dip below a 60 rating in a year.

Kansas Citians showed faith in their government last year. Now it’s time for City Hall to deliver on its promises instead of changing the rules.

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