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Rocky road compromise

A tardy contractor promises extra work to avoid fines, but some residents aren't impressed

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With a smattering of potholes, odd bumps, and cracks, Tide Street had never been particularly beautiful. Still, it was mostly smooth, and the flat stretch of residential road on the north end of Morro Bay was the only place kids could learn to ride their bikes or skateboards without dive-bombing steep hills in the family-filled coastal neighborhood.

On Aug. 23, crews working for International Surfacing Systems (ISS) closed off the entire half-mile road for resurfacing. When they opened it up to traffic that afternoon, residents were largely disappointed with the results.

“It shows the quality of work you get when you go with the lowest bidder,” Sylvia Sterner told New Times as she readied her kids for the morning commute to school.

On May 3, Morro Bay contracted with ISS to repair 5.7 miles of road throughout the city for $772,855, roughly $200,000 less than what city engineers had estimated the work would cost. Six companies submitted higher bids, and just two were more than the city’s estimate.

A stipulation of the contract required that work on busy roads like Main Street and Embarcadero be completed by May 25, a stop date intended to prevent road closures during the summer tourist season—but ISS, one of the largest paving companies in California, failed to deliver.

As the deadline approached, no work had begun, and ISS fell out of contact with the city, prompting council members to discuss their options. For every day past the deadline, ISS could be held liable for $1,900 in liquidated damages. Staff estimated the total would come to $98,800 if the work took two weeks to complete after Sept. 3, when tourism dies down and work is allowed to recommence in the downtown district. The city could sue the company for damages, rebid the work, and start over, or they could come up with some sort of compromise.

At their June 12 meeting, council members voted to accept an offer from ISS. If the company could slide on the deadline for downtown work, it would throw in an extra 50,000 square feet of road resurfacing for free.

That road was Tide Street, and to be blunt, it looks like a clumsy 5-year-old dipped a wet paintbrush in kitty litter before struggling to stay inside the lines. The cracks and potholes have been filled, but the bumps remain, compounded by a seam running the length of the road where workers made two separate passes to smooth the slurry of tar and gravel. The gravel, however, never quite flattened out, and splotches of tar encroach on lawns and driveways in several locations.

Faron Carroll, the project supervisor for ISS, did not return requests for comment as of press time, but Morro Bay’s public services director, Rob Livick, said the roads aren’t as bad as they look.

“It’s supposed to be rough like that,” Livick said. “I admit it’s not the best surface for skateboarding.”

Local skating advocate Jack Smith said he’s seen similar pave jobs in Cayucos and that the rough surface eventually wears down and will be safe for skateboarding after three months.

According to Livick, Tide Street was a pilot project, meant to test the potential of an experimental resurfacing method. Triple layer cape sealing, as it’s called, is much cheaper than traditional overlays and should extend the life of the road for 10 years.

Livick said that city crews will monitor the road for the next couple of months to see how it holds up. If it lasts as promised, this kind of cheap, temporary fix could become common on the north end of town.

According to Livick, those roads are older than 50 years and weren’t built properly in the first place. Before the city incorporated, San Luis Obispo County laid red rock in the dirt to improve roads in rural areas. In the years since, city crews have layered asphalt over the roads, making them look like any other street, but there’s no adequate foundation for streets that meet modern standards.

“If you watch carefully when garbage trucks go by, you can actually see the road ripple,” Livick said.

To fix it right, the city will have to rip out the existing roads completely, dig deeper foundations, and fill the trenches with thick layers of asphalt at a cost of up to $500,000 per mile. All told, such a project would take roughly $15 million, money the city simply doesn’t have right now, Livick said.

The city passed a long term Paving Management Plan in June of 2011, but it doesn’t include the overhaul of north Morro Bay. Livick said there’s no plan in place to set money aside for the eventual project, either.

Staff Writer Nick Powell can be reached at npowell@newtimesslo.com.

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