The results of a citywide street survey confirms what city officials and local residents have known for years - Miami's streets are in serious decline. The decision that now faces administrators and the public is how the community will pay for a $15 million road improvement project.

“Our streets are losing the infrastructure battle,” Miami City Engineer Jerry Ruse said a year ago as he recommended that the city team up with analysts from iWorQ to develop a comprehensive street paving management plan.

The analysts have since driven all of Miami's streets, logged the varying degrees of decline, created a database and mapped the system. It was a $15,000 investment that has given the city a platform on which to justify new taxation.

“This is not a popular subject,” Miami City Manager Michael Spurgeon said. “But, it is important to start this dialogue. I am recommending to start the process of authorizing some public hearings to allow for public comment and education of the citizens about what their options are.”

According to Ruse, 70 to 80 percent of the city streets are nearing “failure.” Meaning that they will soon reach a point where the only option is to rebuild the road base and start over.

“You could probably drive on them for 15 to 20 years,” Ruse said. “But, there is no way to salvage them. You could only patch them until you are ready to rebuild.”

To bring all the city streets to “good” level, Ruse estimated that $15 million would have to be obligated over the next eight to 15 years.

Immediately, Ruse said the city must look at implementing a preventative maintenance program that will save the city's best streets.

“We have some good streets that are in real good condition right now,” Ruse said. “We can save those streets forever if we just take care of them in a preventative maintenance sort of way.”

Ruse said that preventative work may cause residents to question priorities as good roads get attention and deteriorating roads appear to be neglected.

“The point is, we have to spend money to take care of them while they are good,” councilman Rudy Schultz clarified.

Spurgeon has asked that the council authorize a series of public hearings to allow citizens to ask questions, weigh in, get educated about current road conditions and see their options for generating revenue for the expense of providing quality streets.

Currently, the city has an annual street improvement budget of $225,000. Out of that money, once equipment leases and other obligations are drawn from the funds, the city has between $75,000 and $100,000 to put toward road improvements, according to Spurgeon.

Despite the fact that municipalities throughout the country face the same shortfall of road improvement funding, Miami's figures fall short when stacked against cities of similar size.

Public Works Director Tim Wilson said Thursday that Miami and Claremore are nearly identical in terms of streets, both with an estimated 112 miles of road surface within the city limits. Claremore, however, as of 2001, has $3 million budget for street repairs. That money is provided through a one-cent sales tax.

Spurgeon said that 60 percent of Miami residents polled in an unscientific questionnaire said they would be willing to contribute to a revenue-generating plan for street improvements.

“That is encouraging to me that they recognized the need to do something,” Spurgeon said. “We need to pick up the ball from there and start publicizing the situation and find out what the people will support.”

Mayor Brent Brassfield said he underestimated the importance of roads to the public as a whole when he stepped into office in 2004.

He has since dubbed 2007 as “the year of the road” and said Monday that he was “blown away” when he first participated in a city-sponsored query of customer concerns.

In the past six years of surveys conducted at the annual customer appreciation breakfast, street repairs has claimed either the first- or second-place ranking, according to Spurgeon.

“We have got to address this immediately,” Brassfield said. “We are anxious to hear from the community on this issue and look forward to addressing this problem.”