Atlanta’s $922 million fix-it list was $750 million when cited in 2008 report

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s next fix-it program is based on a report that reads like a “Guinness Book of World Records” of the city’s public amenities.

Almost 20 percent of sidewalks in Atlanta are in need of repair, according to a city report. Credit: PEDS

Almost 20 percent of sidewalks in Atlanta are in need of repair, according to a city report. Credit: PEDS

Ever wonder about sidewalks? Atlanta has 2,158 miles of them, and 395 miles are defective. Ever suspect that traffic flow could be improved if signals were fixed? The answer’s in the report. Recreation centers and playgrounds? They’re in there, too.

The report, issued in 2008, recommends the city borrow $250 million to start the repair program. Mayor Kasim Reed has landed on the same sum, and is considering a recommendation for Atlanta to borrow that amount of money this year.

The original report fell with a thud on the Atlanta City Council in December 2008.

No one had an appetite for taking on that sort of debt, nor was there interest in talking about the $750 million repair bill identified in the report. Reed now puts the figure closer to $922 million.

Back then, the country was learning it had entered a recession. The state labor commissioner reported the job loss in metro Atlanta was 67,800 – just in the month of November 2008. Certainly, there was no appetite for incurring debt in an election year, and 2009 was an election year – as is 2013.

Times are different.

But the needs are unchanged.

The cost of deferred maintenance was $750 million and should be addressed with an upkeep budget of $100 million a year, according to the report. The repair bill represents about two-thirds of the total book value of the city’s infrastructure, which the report pegged at $1.2 billion, in 2007 dollars. Replacement cost was valued at $3.4 billion.

The city has a maintenance program, but it is neither systematic nor comprehensive.

Atlanta’s capital budget, which ranges from $50 million to $60 million a year, pays for a “significant portion” for new projects – rather than for maintenance, according to the report.

As President Obama noted in his State of the Union speech, the country needs to adopt a “Fix it First” policy to make urgently needed repairs to infrastructure. The Atlanta report reaches a similar conclusion, based on repairs that are needed due to neglect:

  • “Like most governments around the country, the city has a significant backlog of capital infrastructure in need of replacement or major repair. This backlog is the result of decades-long practices of failing to catalogue, track and fund capital needs in a systemic and timely fashion. Consequently, the city operates with an infrastructure ‘deficit’ that increases operating costs and inhibits the city’s abilities to meet operational performance targets.”

The report is easy to read and clearly represents its viewpoints. The authors were David Edwards, senior policy advisor to then Mayor Shirley Franklin, and Duriya Farooqui, then the city’s director of performance management.

Farooqui now serves as Atlanta’s chief operating officer, and is the public point-person for the administration’s dealings with the proposed Falcons stadium.

The following chart, taken from the report, provides an easy-to-read synopsis of the various pieces of the city’s infrastructure, a ranking of the recommended improvement program, and cost to repair.

The definitions of the priorities are:

Atlanta's backlog1)   Critical

2)   Urgent

3)   Important

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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