The snow may have melted away on streets throughout Spokane Valley, but for Shane Arlt and other employees of the city’s public works department, the resulting landscape can be just as challenging.
As the acting superintendent of public works, Arlt oversees the effort to address road damage caused by winter weather. When the ice thaws, fractures in the asphalt become evident, presenting concerns for area drivers. Arlt and a team of three maintenance workers do their part in patching up problem areas, often functioning at night when traffic is lighter.
Citizens can help by calling City Hall at 921-1000 or going to Spokane Valley’s Web site – www.spokanevalley.org and clicking “Report a Problem” to document road damage or other concerns. Arlt said the involvement of the community makes a difference in maintaining safer streets.
“They’re that extra set of eyes,” he said. “Citizens are really a big help.”
Toward the end of last winter – a mild one by recent standards – the city had repaired around 40 potholes. In 2008-09, the number was closer to 140. The winter before that, nearly 200 were reported.
The freeze/thaw cycle presents the most significant hurdle in the effort to sustain quality roads, Arlt said. Because water expands when it freezes, ice acts as a disruptive element, creating fissures in asphalt that leave motorists counting the days until spring.
This winter, despite a good amount of snow and ice, the count is at 49. Arlt said the drop is based on a number of factors, including improved methods for repairing street damage – the city seals gaps in the road during the summer to prevent ice from seeping into asphalt – and a slew of county sewer projects that have meant curb-to-curb repaving on many roads throughout the city.
“The county projects have made a big difference,” Arlt said. “The base of the road is rebuilt as part of that process.”
That means a road supported by a foundation of studier material instead of simply being built over existing ground. This year represents the final stage of county sewer projects in Spokane Valley, a program that has refurbished roads in 20 to 25 mile stretches each year. There are over 400 miles of roadway within Spokane Valley city limits.
After residents voted against a $6 million bond in 2004 to repave the rest of the city in conjunction with sewer work, the city stepped up in May 2005 to fund full-width resurfacing. Neighborhoods in the areas of Sherwood Forest and Mica Park were among the first to receive new streets through the program.
Even when temperatures are below freezing, Arlt and his pavement patrol can provide a remedy by using what’s known as a “cold mix,” a patch that sets in harsh weather until normal asphalt can be added.
“It’s basically a Band-Aid,” Arlt said.
In terms of response to road issues, Spokane Valley incorporation appears to represent a plus for local motorists. A story in the May 27, 2000 issue of the Spokane Valley News Herald chronicled the frustrations of residents in trying to reach the Spokane County public works department. At their regular meeting, Spokane County commissioners were critical of delays in getting back to residents as well as a voice messaging system that Commissioner Kate McCaslin described as “frustrating.”
These days, Arlt and his crew respond to calls and online reports within 24 hours. The city’s new Web site has made the process more efficient, according to Carolbelle Branch, Spokane Valley spokeswoman. In addition to road damage, residents can alert the city of a wide range of issues, from streets still covered in snow to code violations like obstructed traffic signs or junk vehicles.
“It’s really any kind of problem,” Branch said. “We’ll make sure it gets forwarded to the right department.”