Nearly half of Oklahoma City's roads are in fair to poor condition, in need of repairs beyond simple resurfacing.
Taxpayers invest hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade roads, but progress is slow, and unhappiness with roads has persisted for years.
City leaders can only hope an aggressive maintenance and construction schedule is sufficient to turn public opinion their way.
The Oklahoman analyzed Oklahoma City's Pavement Condition Index (PCI), which grades 13,679 streets or street segments on a scale of 0 to 100.
The analysis shows 3,637 roads are in excellent shape, in no need of repair.
On the other end of the scale, at least 1,746 roads need to be reconstructed. Another 1,158 received scores of 0 or minus 1, meaning they weren't graded, were so bad the rating was 0, or were unrated surfaces, such as gravel or dirt.
The PCI graded 6,652 streets at 60 or less. Under the city's classification system, streets rated 60 or less need some level of repair to the road base before being resurfaced.
No. 1 concern
It's an issue that rankles residents, with 59 percent of those who responded to the city's 2013 community survey saying they were dissatisfied with the condition of city streets.
In 1987, 62.3 percent of those who responded answered “many bad spots” when asked to rate the condition of city streets.
In the 2013 survey, 73 percent listed streets as one of the top three issues that should receive the most emphasis from the city in the next two years, with about 50 percent making it No. 1.
Traffic and ease of getting around town was second with residents; quality of the police force was a distant third.
The average PCI rating for major and residential streets in 2013 is 64, up from 62 in 2010. However, the average rating of major streets has dropped, from 64 in 2010 to 61 in 2013.
“We would like to see that number higher, much higher, probably in the 70s,” said Eric Wenger, director of Oklahoma City's Public Works Department.
Borrowing for roads
Oklahoma City finances major road projects primarily by asking voters to authorize borrowing.
In a 2007 bond election, voters approved $445 million for 31 resurfacing projects, 49 road-widening projects and 57 road reconstruction projects.
Reserves brought the total to nearly $500 million. Voters approved an additional $40 million for bridge projects, traffic signals and other work.
The general obligation bond elections also included money for drainage projects, parks, libraries, police and fire and other services. The city holds its property tax rate at 16 mills, or $16 per $1,000 of net assessed value. Individual taxes go up or down as assessments change.
In the past 10 years, the net assessed value of property in Oklahoma City has increased an average of 5.23 percent per year, to $4.9 billion.
Matching that growth, spending has increased substantially.
Voters approved a total of $835.5 million in spending in 2007, while the list of projects in 2000 added up to just $340 million. That package included $192 million for streets.
So far, the city has borrowed just under $202 million of the $500 million authorized for streets in the 2007 election. Construction is expected to continue until the end of the decade.
More than 750 — 9.2 percent — of the city's 8,151 lane-miles of streets will be resurfaced, widened and or rebuilt.
“We're looking at roads that have the highest travel volume, we're also looking at the roads that have the lowest quality, prioritizing them first,” Wenger said.
Poor national ranking
Earlier this month, TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group, reported that 47 percent of Oklahoma City's major roads are in poor condition, 10th worst among U.S. urban areas with 500,000 or more residents.
The urban area of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana in California was worst, with 64 percent in poor shape.
Driving on bad roads costs Oklahoma City motorists $782 per year, TRIP said. The group said added wear and tear on vehicles cuts into their value and drives up consumers' costs, because cars battling bumps and potholes need more frequent maintenance and use more fuel.
Using 2011 data, TRIP found that 27 percent of major urban roads nationwide were in substandard or poor condition. It estimated the annual cost to motorists to be $80 billion.
Formed in 1971, TRIP is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, construction companies, labor unions and others with interests in transportation.
Better outlook ahead?
Wenger said he thinks the inconvenience of contending with work zones and lane closures may be having an effect on the ratings Oklahoma City citizens give their streets.
He's hoping perceptions will change for the better as projects wrap up.
“It's very hard to find a street in Oklahoma City that doesn't have a detour or is not under construction,” Wenger said.