Mount Dora City Council Considers Downtown Paving Deal with Lake County

To Pave or Not to Pave...Decision on June 7

Fifth Avenue in Downtown Mount Dora is not in great shape.  No question about it.

So does it get paved over quickly this summer? It would be a cosmetic and maintenance improvement – but might that just result in paving over bigger, underlying problems?  Or, does the city wait the few years until the completion of planned infrastructure and streetscape improvements to have an have attractive, new road into town?

Even if you don’t know the names of the maladies afflicting the pavement on the street, you can see that there is a problem.

Actually, there are several problems.  Most are caused by age and water.  Water and the damage caused by erosion are always enemies to paved to surfaces. Over time, water and age always win, no matter how diligent and hardworking maintenance departments may be – roads must be regularly resurfaced.  Unfortunately, Fifth Avenue appears to need more than the asphalt equivalent of a fresh coat of paint.  Years of neglect and some haphazard patching have left the road in questionable condition – on the surface, and probably below.

The question currently before city council, on the June 7 agenda, is whether to enter into an interlocal agreement with Lake County that allows the City of Mount Dora to accept around $26,000 from the County – and then allows the county to pave Fifth Avenue from Tremain Street to Alexander.  According to the agenda, the city would match the funds with $26,000 of its own.  And, while that all seems a no-brainer, fast-tracking the project could result in expensive consequences that should be considered by the city council.

Alligator cracking on 5th Avenue near the corner of Donnelly Street
Raveling and aging, in asphalt makes a location for water to collect – can also be caused by inadequate soil compaction during construction, or when the aggregate and asphalt binder don’t adhere well to each other

First, the road being discussed is currently a county road.  Although it rests within the city limits of Mount Dora, the responsibility for the maintenance of Fifth Avenue actually belongs to Lake County – as does the roadway.  Having county roads within one’s city is not uncommon.  Mount Dora has city, county and state roads within its boundaries – as do most cities.

But here’s the tricky part to consider.  If Mount Dora signs off on the agreement to accept the cash to repave this section of the road, the city also accepts all future responsibility for maintaining the road – for only a $26,000 exchange. That is the rub.

Roads are expensive to maintain, and the driving surface, bituminous binder layer underneath and the aggregate base layer can be very costly to replace – making that $26,000 for surficial pavement sound like peanuts.  But consider, with this deal the road will then be the city’s permanent responsibility.  Mount Dora will inherit whatever problems lie beneath the neglected section of road and ever after will absorb the full cost of repaving it every decade or so.

And roads should be resurfaced every 8-10 years.  It has been far longer since Fifth Avenue was last paved. But, the asphalt surface is usually only 2-3 inches deep, a small portion of the expense of a completed road.  Roads, and the structure needed to make them safe consist of specific stacked layers that are about 1-1/2 feet deep – if they are correctly constructed.

There are generally four layers.  Going from what we see downward – the asphalt is the first level and is just the driving surface.  It gets repaired, sealed or replaced as it wears out over time.  Under that asphalt is usually a binder layer that carries most of the weight of the traffic that uses the road.  Underneath the binder  there is usually about a foot of aggregate, normally crushed lime rock or limerock, that sits upon compacted native soil. In Central Florida the native soil is sand, sand and more sand.  All of those layers give roads structure and the integrity to keep them from shifting on that sand or allowing it to wear away underneath, compromising the entire roadway.

On Fifth Avenue - block cracks are interconnected cracks that form groups of large blocks with cracks that usually intersect each other at right angles.
On Fifth Avenue – block cracks are interconnected cracks that form groups of large blocks with cracks that usually intersect each other at right angles.

Assessing what needs to be done to correct deficiencies in older roadways usually first requires the taking core samples to determine the condition of the sublayers beneath the driving surface – before milling is begun.  In the case of Fifth Avenue, it does not appear any such assessment has been done.

Why should businesses and residents care about whether a core sample was taken to show what is going on under the asphalt driving surface?

First, because if there are serious deficiencies beneath the surface, taxpayers could end up paying for the road to be paved this summer only to have the same problems work up through the newly laid surface within a year or two.  The resurfacing of the road is not a structural fix.  If there are underlying issues, they will transfer up through the new surface relatively quickly, creating the same cracks and fissures that are now troublesome.

Next, once milling begins, if there are areas of major failure discovered under the currently visible surface – the city has not laid out their backup construction game plan/schedule or identified the source of funds that would be needed to address more comprehensive work.

There is also no report from the Public Works Department included in the council agenda that discusses the age or depth of the buried utilities above which the heavy equipment will be milling and paving.  There are no specifications in the proposed interlocal agreement relative to the materials to be used or how much asphalt is to be laid.

Alligator or Crocodile cracking - It is often a sign of sub-base failure, poor drainage, or repeated over-loadings. It is important to repair as soon as possible, as advanced cases can be very costly to repair and can lead to formation of potholes or premature pavement failure.
Alligator or Crocodile cracking – It is often a sign of sub-base failure, poor drainage, or repeated over-loadings. It is important to repair as soon as possible, as advanced cases can be very costly to repair and can lead to formation of potholes or premature pavement failure.

Most of the area of Fifth Avenue being discussed is also the next identified section of downtown in line for utility replacement and streetscaping.  The utilities lines underneath much of Fifth are over 80 years old and are at, or near, the end of their useful lives. Hopefully, a plan to address utility lines replacement will done before there is a catastrophic failure.

There is an understandable hesitation to engage in intensive construction work for at least a couple of years, to give weary residents and merchants an opportunity to recover from recent past phases of downtown summer construction.

But, when will construction on the aging Fifth Avenue utilities and stormwater drainage be addressed?  If the county proceeds to mill up the street within the next few weeks to repave, effectively closing down Fifth Avenue for a week, how many years of value will taxpayers then get from that paving before the new asphalt must be milled up and hauled away, so the city can address the much-needed infrastructure work below Fifth Avenue?

The whole process may run wonderfully, smoothly, with no complications, resulting in a new, pretty asphalt surface with sharp new white lines at crossings and parking spaces. The new pavement may even last a few years before it cracks and breaks.

Or, it may not.  Here’s hoping the council asks more questions before moving ahead.

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Melissa DeMarco, Editor (editor@mountdoracitizen.com)