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For Long Lasting L.A. Streets, Revamping Utility Street Cuts Sought

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Street cuts, seen here in San Francisco, can often be identified as square or rectangular excavations made by workers to access below city streets

| Photo: sfbike/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Too often, streets in Los Angeles are newly paved only to be sliced into so that work can be performed on water, gas, sewer, or telecommunication lines buried underneath, according to two city councilmembers. When workers excavate holes in streets, the road surface is weakened and the life of the street is shortened. The excavations are familiar to motorists as the holes that get covered with metal plates and then refilled and repaved. They announce themselves with a jab to tires and suspension systems. Even once finished, they can result in dangerous potholes or bumps.

That's one reason city councilmembers Joe Buscaino and Mitch Englander are seeking to overhaul how the city undertakes street cuts and tracks which roadways are too young for work. Four motions governing street cuts are now before a council committee and if approved will go before the whole city council.

At the moment, Los Angeles requires that a street is left untouched for one year before any cuts are made. The councilmembers want to extend that moratorium to three years. Many other cities have such street cut bans, some of which last five years, according to the councilmembers.

The proposals reflect Mayor Eric Garcetti's back-to-basics focus on potholes. "We are going to make sure we are paid back in full when people dig up our roads," Garcetti said at a press conference last month in which he appeared alongside Buscaino.

The overhaul also seeks to better organize what they say is a messy system of keeping track of the 10,000 excavations made annually on city streets.

L.A., the councilmembers say, should take a page from Chicago's book: it saved $10 million in 2012 by creating a program to coordinate between the city and contractors, leading to fewer cuts. The motions by Buscaino and Englander would require better coordination of street cut scheduling, permitting, mapping, and inspection.

"The city needs to better coordinate street cut activity to reduce their number and to execute the most effective and long-lasting cut restorations," one motion reads.

Another motion calls for the Board of Public Works to review exemptions to street cut moratoria, instead of the City Council, which must review them currently.

The motions also call for the Department of Public Works to study the use of radio frequency identification tags on street cuts. The devices would contain information about the contractors that created the cut. They would be embedded into asphalt where city workers could read them with handheld devices to verify which contractor made the cut.

The overhaul would likewise target a formula that city administrators use to charge fees to private contractors like telecom companies when they cut L.A. streets. Buscaino and Englander say that the city is losing money because the formula assumes too low a number of street cuts.

Taken together, the various motions sponsored by Buscaino and Englander seek to overhaul street cuts by:

Three-year moratorium: (CF 14-157-S1)
Instructing the city attorney to investigate the feasibility of increasing from one to three years the moratorium placed on street cuts after paving, and present an ordinance granting the Board of Public Works the authority to make exemptions to street cut moratoria.

Fees: (CF 14-571)
Instructing the city administrative officer to present a cost and fee analysis of street cuts, report on a plan for reviewing the fee formula to include inflation and other things.

RFIDs: (CF 14-1156)
Studying the feasibility of implanting radio frequency identification tags into the asphalt at street cuts. City workers could then scan the tags with a handheld device to get accurate information about when a street cut was created, and by whom.

Coordination: (CF 14-1569)
Instructing the Department of Public Works, Information Technology Agency, and Department of Transportation to coordinate with city agencies, private contractors and utilities the "scheduling, permitting, monitoring, mapping and inspection" of street cuts.

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