City Poised to Play Catch-Up on Infrastructure Repairs

This water line rupture was repaired by California-American Water shortly after it opened up at Sierra Madre Boulevard and Canterbury Road last Thursday.
Photo courtesy Michael Throne
This water line rupture was repaired by California-American Water shortly after it opened up at Sierra Madre Boulevard and Canterbury Road last Thursday.

A ruptured water line near the intersection of Sierra Madre Boulevard and Canterbury Road last week served as a reminder of the need to keep up with the needs of public infrastructure.
California-American Water Co. had the rupture patched up shortly after it opened last Thursday, and although the city presently is not planning wholesale water system work — outside of emergency repairs, of course — residents can expect movement on other portions of San Marino’s utility infrastructure in the coming years.
The most obvious work will be on streets. One phase of street resurfacing — involving a bit more than 5,000 tons of asphalt on 23 streets — was completed in August, and the city will consider the planning for the next phase in November, according to Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne. Once engineering is completed, Throne said, he expects bids on the project to be sought by the end of winter.
“We’ll be doing a lot more street. We’ll be doing slurry sealing in addition to pavement repair,” Throne said. “It’s really going to be a mix of streets. We know what our dollar amount is and we have a list of streets from our 2018 pavement management plan, and we’re going to see how many streets we can squeeze into $3.5 million.”
As part of last year’s budgeting process, the City Council created a capital projects fund separate from the general fund and filled it with about $14 million in reserve cash from previous surpluses. This was the city’s first dedicated capital fund and was born of a desire to finally catch up on decades of deferred infrastructure maintenance. The city also committed to maintaining around 40% of projected general fund expenditures in the general fund reserve, with the amount exceeding that to be transferred to the capital project fund.
“It sort of sets the tone for the future,” Throne said. “We’re going to fund it and be serious about it, and that’s a fabulous place to work.”
In addition to new pavement, the street rehabilitation projects include slurry sealing to keep water from prematurely eroding or damaging the pavement over time.
“Unfortunately, because of years of deferred maintenance, it’s going to take us a while to catch up,” Throne said. “The council did take the first steps in a 13-year plan to get us to such a level that all we have to do henceforth is slurry sealing. Once you get to the end of the 13th year, all you’re going to do for the next 20 years is just slurry seal.
“It’s a balance between bringing up those streets that are in bad shape, yet at the same time the streets you’ve already done the overlay on, you want to make sure you slurry seal those on schedule,” he added. “In the past we’ve generally been OK with taking care of the main streets, but many, many of the neighborhood streets we just haven’t touched in decades. Those are going to take the more expensive work.”
As for San Marino’s sewer system, a condition assessment was completed in January and the city is on schedule to make improvements to one of its three lift stations per year, starting with the current year. Throne said “wholesale sewer rehabilitation” will begin after the third year, adding that the current lift stations — which elevate material from lower portions of the system to lines leading out of the city — include equipment more than 30 years old.
“It works, but it’s not necessarily contemporary,” Throne said. “Once it gets too old, it becomes difficult to get parts and there’s more of a need these days to understand how your system is operating instead of waiting for an alarm to say your system is not operating.”
Storm water drainage has been undergoing condition assessment since July, with a completion date of around May. Rehabilitation would begin after that, which will likely be a relief to a system that includes metal culverts more than half a century old. Last year, a small sinkhole formed because the bottom of a corrugated metal culvert had rusted out.
“In the 1960s, when they installed these pipes, they were not thinking 2020 at all,” Throne said, adding that a typical lifespan is about 30 years. “We’re fortunate they used hefty material.”
One needle to thread, Throne said, is to ensure that pipe excavation is completed before the street rehabilitation project reaches the same area. If excavation is needed, it’s fortunate that most of the storm drains intersect streets at a right angle, meaning only a small strip would need to be opened up, as opposed to a long stretch of roadway.
“Most of our sewer lines are very deep, so we would not necessarily excavate them,” he said. “The storm drain systems are shallower and closer to the surface, and because of their size, when you replace them, you do have to excavate the street.”

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