In 2020, a turbulent year of disease and conversations of racial equity and police violence, residents of Durham were most unhappy with the city streets.
In the annual survey of city residents, road maintenance had the highest rating of dissatisfaction (45% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied), higher than the public schools (34%) and police protection, which scored remarkably well, with 53% satisfied or very satisfied.
Residents also chose city streets third to receive the “Most Emphasis from City and County Leaders over the Next Two Years,” behind police protection and public schools.
The city conducts the survey to get feedback on its services as well as those offered by the county and Durham Public Schools. The city’s news release about the survey was quite cheery (“Durham Satisfaction Survey Shows Residents Pleased with Employee Service During COVID-19 Pandemic”), but we decided to focus on the persistent grumpiness about the roads.
“We get this every year,” Mayor Steve Schewel said about the road complaints. “It always amazes me.”
Schewel noted that the roads that receive the most complaints aren’t ones that the city maintains.
He said key streets in Durham such as Hillsborough Road, Cameron Boulevard, and Fayetteville Street aren’t managed or maintained by the city itself. They are actually state-owned and maintained.
One problem is money. He said that state maintenance relies on the state gas tax, but it can’t keep up with the changing fleet on the roads.
“People have been driving less, driving hybrid vehicles, and driving more fuel efficient cars,” said Schewel, whose wife drives a Prius. “So gas tax collections have really gone down. The state has been strapped for cash for road maintenance.”
City residents, probably unaware of nuances of road ownership and budgeting, just want better streets. When asked which government service should receive the more funding, 47% of survey recipients said street maintenance.
Schewel said it’s a constant challenge to balance the needs with available revenue. “Part of it is that we need to continue to spend local money on street paving,” he said, “but the state also needs to do its job on thoroughfares which they tend to own.”
But don’t be surprised if next year’s survey is very similar. Said Schewel, “We are never quite where we want to be on street paving.”
In photo above: Drivers have to dodge large potholes on Erwin Road between Cameron Boulevard and Morreene Road. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama | The 9th Street Journal