Real Financial Impact
This summer, my city is working on a street reconstruction project near my home. My commute has been torn up for most of the summer, forcing me to walk through loose dirt and construction debris or take a more circuitous route. I’ve not minded at all. You see, my city moved the curb and I’m ecstatic about it.
Many decades ago, my poor and generally cash-strapped city took a quaint and walkable neighborhood and decided it was going to spend absurd amounts of money widening the streets. In a very practical sense, a wider street substitutes asphalt pavement for turf. The wider the street is, the more pavement and the less turf there is.
Let me state the obvious: pavement is vastly more expensive than turf. Oh so much more expensive. By shifting to pavement from turf, the city is choosing to spend a lot more money upfront.
How much more? The bid tabulation for the current project gives a rough idea.
With an eight-inch-deep section, a shift from turf to pavement increases the cost by 350%. On the pavement side, there is compacted aggregate and bituminous pavement at a cost of $2.09 per square foot. On the turf side, there is fill (common borrow) and topsoil at just $0.60 per square foot. These prices will vary for different locations and different projects, but the ratio of 3.5x seems like a solid benchmark.
I’m not sure exactly how much the city moved the curb, but I estimate about eight feet on each side. If so, they cut well over $150,000 off the cost of the project. Here’s a link to the bid tabulation and a spreadsheet that shows how I came up with these results.
Those are the initial construction costs, but the ongoing maintenance costs add up, as well. Every routine maintenance project over the years had to crack seal, seal coat, and overlay that much more pavement. Every time it snowed, the plows needed to clear that much more snow at a shockingly high cost. When it rains, we have to convey that much more water through systems that must be sized to handle all that unnecessary pavement.
An extra foot of street pavement is the extravagant luxury good we not only don’t appreciate, but also never really wanted.
If you’re reconstructing the street, reduce the street width by moving the curb in. As far as possible. Every foot saves you money today and every year you maintain that street. Fight for less.
My city moved the curb. That’s great leadership.