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In Omaha, 'Reclaiming' Potholed Streets Means Unpaving Them

The euphemism refers to a cost-saving measure that's happening even in central districts, to the chagrin of residents. This reversion to gravel roads is one manifestation of a looming local infrastructure deficit.
March 12, 2017, 11am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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State Farm

On some streets in Omaha, Mitch Smith writes, the city is simply unpaving heavily potholed streets in response to a $300 million backlog on road repairs. This follows a long period of repair delays. "For years, an uneasy truce persisted: Public works crews would fill potholes and perform other maintenance work on those roads, but insisted that residents pay if they wanted repaving."

City Hall justifies this stance by stating that many of these suburban roads were low-quality to begin with. "Omaha's policy on unimproved roads is a matter of equity. When the houses were built two generations ago with subpar streets [...] the builder and homeowner saved money."

All of this has residents in an uproar, and some have taken legal action. Reputation is one factor: as central Omaha improves in many ways, unpaving streets looks bad. 

Omaha's example is extreme, but similar backpedalling is happening elsewhere too. "In Youngstown, Ohio, officials closed off some uninhabited streets. In Gary, Ind., some of the city's parks could close — a process city officials call 'renaturing' — after years of neglect. And in one Michigan county, a deteriorating bridge was torn down, not replaced."

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Published on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 in The New York Times
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