Rick Wamre: The streets are a mess and, in a way, we are to blame

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Some of you regularly read our online daily news digest at advocatemag.com or find yourself directed to the site from our Facebook or Twitter feeds. I know this because I received plenty of reaction to an online-only item I wrote a few weeks ago concerning our son’s pothole experience.

I hadn’t expected that particular story to be a readership magnet — no animals, crime or restaurants were mentioned. Little did I know so many of you agreed about the pathetic condition of our streets.

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Just a quick recap: Our son was driving home from college, and he wound up beached at a grocery store.

“I blew a tire, dad,” he said. “I’m here in the parking lot, and the tire is completely flat.”

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Luckily, he wasn’t hurt, and the problem occurred in the last leg of a 250-mile journey. Unluckily, our car had a blown tire, a bent rim and a messed-up alignment.

$197.01.

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That’s what it cost us for a new tire, installation and alignment. I think they threw in banging on the rim for free.

“You’re the eighth person in here this morning with a blown tire from a pothole,” the repair guy told me the following day at 11 a.m.

The pothole he hit was deep and wide — plenty of space to suck in a small tire and regurgitate a damaged hunk of rubber and metal.

The good news is that after I noted the issue on the city website (you can also call 311), the pothole was repaired within 24 hours, just as promised for serious street damage.

But my pothole wasn’t the only dangerous street issue, as I found out after hearing from many of you. Streets throughout the city — north, south, east and west — are in poor condition not only from the March spate of winter weather, but moreso from years and years of neglect. Turns out that while we’ve focused our attention on big-ticket “world-class-city-type” projects such as the Trinity Toll Road, the Downtown city-owned Omni convention center hotel, and the frequent tax breaks we’ve provided to developers, we forgot about our streets.

As a result, we’re $900 million in arrears on street repairs, meaning that’s how much money needs to be spent — today — to put most of our streets back in good condition.

Sadly, there’s no one to blame but ourselves. For years at budget time, the people who run our city made a conscious decision that replacing worn-out streets wasn’t enough of a priority.

And we kept sending them back Downtown because when voters don’t care, an incumbent rarely loses.

What can we do now?

Saturday, May 9, is the next council election; six councilmen are stepping down because of term limits, two more face challengers, and the mayor also is running for re-election. Other than in North Dallas, lots of races are up for grabs.

We’re offering brief election coverage in this month’s magazine, as well as online (short videos of each candidate) for those who don’t have time to attend a candidate gathering to eyeball them ourselves. Other media outlets are covering the election, too.

So we can do what we usually do — whine, complain and then not vote — or we can pay attention to who is running and take the time to help make the decision May 9 (remember to register through Dallas County by April 9).

Every time we hit a rough patch of street, and every time we run across uneven asphalt or poor striping or a plain old pothole, let’s tell ourselves: This year, we’re going to make a difference.

With so many reminders out there, how can we forget?

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