Within recent months the powers that be in Tacoma have been
pushing TPU to embark on an all out effort to underground their utilities.
My intuition tells me that the "important projects for
TPU" revolve around how to shift financial responsibility for Tacoma's
failing and failed infrastructure onto the back, or should I say into the
wallets, of TPU rate payers.
I forecasted this very move well over a decade ago when the "Powers That
Be" hatched a scheme to transfer as much of the available incoming revenue
streams to "Downtown
Revitalization". The promise was that by deferring maintenance for a short
period of time and using the "savings" to fund "downtown
revitalization" that before long businesses and residents would come
flocking into the "Revitalization Zone." Those new residents and
business would generate increased revenues through property taxes, B&O
taxes, impact mitigation fees, etc. that would far surpass the costs and this
new largess would be "more than sufficient" to offset the increased
deterioration to the City's infrastructure.
I sat and listened. I
questioned the model that was being bandied about as representative of the
cumulative deterioration over time and pointed out that deterioration
caused by deferred maintenance, e.g. neglect, is not linear. A
regression analysis of deterioration caused by deferred maintenance is
and at some point becomes exponential in form. When I asked the City Planners
to quantify "short period" in years I was rebuffed. I asked if we
were talking about a decade before the "revitalization zone"
would be self sustaining and generating "excess revenues?" Revenues
that the City inferred would be used to rebuild the infrastructure that was
neglected while the revenues stripped from the budgets used to maintain them
was poured into the revitalization of Downtown. I got no answer that
meant anything to someone literate in the English language.
I continued to push and
ask the City Planners if they could quantify the damage to the City
infrastructure if after say... fifteen years of deferred maintenance the excess
revenues do not materialize. I got no answer. I even went so far as to
disregard throwing in what happens if "they" don't come flocking into
the "revitalized" Downtown, and the revitalization zone is
not generating enough revenue to even pay for it's own City services. I did not
ask what if the Convention Center is a bust. I did not ask what if the Museums
don't generate enough revenue to even pay for themselves, much less pay back
what it cost to build them. I simply asked what would happen and when I got no
answer I laid out the scenario we see playing out in front of us
has deteriorated to the point at which future deterioration is outpacing the
incoming revenue needed to stay even. It is the classic example of taking two
steps forward and three steps back and expecting to maintain the status quo.
Not only that, Tacoma continues to budget its incoming revenue streams in ways
that do not favor trying to make up for past indiscretions. I
said at some point Tacoma would have deteriorated streets that were
no longer maintainable and when that day comes the powers that be are going to
look to the Utility ratepayers at TPU as a new revenue source to tap.
I said that there would be
a big push to underground all utilities and that the Utility Board would have
their arms twisted to go along. I said that the case would be made that the
Utility would have an obligation to restore the streets after the Utility work
was completed. I said that the push to underground Utilities would coincide
with the point at which enough of the residents (voters) recognized the
situation regarding correcting the failed infrastructure was indeed
That day is today. Yesterday
we find out that Tacoma's Public Works Director has stepped down in order to
"assist Tacoma Power Superintendent Ted Coates on a number of important
projects at Tacoma Public Utilities."
Ray Charles could see what
is going on. Restoring the street means “TO THE CONDITION THE STREET
WAS IN ON THE DAY THE UTILITY UNDER-GROUNDING COMMENCED’. It does not
mean contributing a "fair share" towards rebuilding a street that was
in failed condition to a new condition. The Utility ratepayers have NO INTEREST
in contributing to restoring failed streets to a new condition and owe
absolutely nothing to that end. PERIOD.
Hasty has lived in Tacoma since 1991 and is a licensed Civil Engineer. He
has worked for one of the five larger cities in the Puget Sound region as a
Civil Engineer/Transportation Planner since 2001.