Expect an uptick in the amount of roads that Portland officials say they’ll preserve in the year ahead.

Leaders for the Portland Bureau of Transportation on Tuesday said they’ll begin counting crack sealing toward their goal of preserving 100 lane miles of roadway each fiscal year.

Crack sealant is cheaper and easier to apply because it goes only on cracks instead of an entire roadway.

Street preservation statistics have become politically significant ever since Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick pledged to preserve 100 miles of roadway each year – a target they’ve exceeded twice.

Their pledge was supposed to alleviate concerns that officials weren’t taking street preservation seriously at the same time that Hales and Novick asked the public to support a controversial street fee.

Portland has a transportation backlog estimated at about $1 billion over 10 years and Hales and Novick last year pushed a street fee they hoped would raise upwards of $40 million annually for repairs and safety improvements.

In fiscal 2015, officials tallied 103 miles of preventative maintenance work – the same as 2014. Of that, crews paved 56 miles, applied a fog sealant to 44 files and completed base repairs on three miles of roads.

“It’s become business as usual,” Leah Treat, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said at a Tuesday morning news conference in North Portland.

Both years mark a significant increase compared with priorities under former Mayor Sam Adams. But the increase is largely attributable to the sealing program, which is far cheaper than traditional grind-and-pave repairs.

For fiscal 2016, transportation officials say using an even cheaper treatment – crack sealant – should further increase annual statistics.

“We’d hope to see an uptick,” in lane miles reported, said Peter Wojcicki, a transportation division manager.

Although Treat said crack sealing is “new” for the transportation bureau, officials have been applying crack sealant for at least two decades, Wojcicki said. They just haven’t haven’t counted it in preservation numbers.

Crews typically apply crack sealant on residential streets before applying a fog seal, officials said. But in the year ahead, officials will count crack sealant applied on busier roads that don’t receive fog sealant.

Dylan Rivera, a transportation spokesman, said fog sealant has in some instances proven difficult to apply because it can require as long as 8 or 10 hours to dry.

City officials included $11.4 million for street preservation work in the 2016 budget. That’s up slightly from the $10.8 million in last year’s budget and the $10.9 million in the 2014 budget.

Treat went out of her way Tuesday to praise Hales and the City Council for directing about $20 million from the city’s current $49 million general-fund surplus toward transportation efforts.

But none of that money is going toward the preventative maintenance work on display Tuesday.

The City Council approved $8.89 million from the general fund for paving – money that will be used to repair some of the city’s worst roads.

City officials will hire outside crews to repair 8.36 lane miles of roadway, with $4.49 million for East Burnside between 20th to 32nd avenues, $3.36 million for Northeast 122nd Avenue between Siskiyou and Skidmore streets and $1.04 million for Southwest Oak Street downtown.

Neither Hales nor Novick attended Tuesday’s news conference. Both are seeking re-election in 2016 and have been relatively quiet about their stalled street fee effort, particularly after Oregon lawmakers didn’t pass a statewide transportation package this month that would have helped Portland’s finances.

Hales – who last year rode atop a street paver – had meetings with Commissioner Nick Fish and a coalition on workforce equity, his spokesman said.

Novick – who last year riffed on a Dr. Seuss quote in affirming the city’s commitment to road preservation – attended a news conference to promote seismic retrofitting of Portland homes.

— Brad Schmidt

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503-294-7628

@cityhallwatch

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