The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 14, 2020 1:00 am

Upkeep on despite pandemic

Shan Gunawardena

Fort Wayne's commitment to investing in neighborhood infrastructure is evident throughout the entire community, even as we continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.

With ongoing budget uncertainties and the stay-at-home order back in the spring, we got off to a later start than usual on the 2020 construction season. We've been able to overcome challenges and are in the middle of $24 million in improvement projects that have started, will start or have been completed.

This year's progress is a testament to outstanding public service and partnerships between public works staff and local contractors in coordination with Mayor Tom Henry, the city controller's office and City Council. We've been working in more than 100 neighborhoods to do paving, concrete street reconstruction, bridge replacements, sidewalk repair and additional sidewalks, alley repairs, and new trail construction.

We recognize there's more to be done, and that's why we're looking forward to 2021. As we've discussed our 2021 budget with City Council, we're anticipating nearly $28 million in upgrades next year with more work on concrete and asphalt streets, new sidewalks, alley enhancements and new bridges. Our total proposed operating budget in public works for 2021 is $35.9 million.

Since 2014, we've been able to complete a record number of projects in every district of the city, nearly $200 million. That much investment in neighborhoods had never occurred. We're honored to be part of what's been done and what will be done in future construction cycles.

In addition, we're advocating for two additional employees to help perform necessary landscaping services. As we build new roads and make other improvements, we've made a commitment to have aesthetically pleasing corridors and that requires upkeep. Currently, we have 22 acres of greenspace to maintain. That number will jump to 43 acres in 2021.

The work includes vegetative maintenance, trash abatement, plant replacement, responses to 311 complaints, and design and management collaboration. During the dormant season, our work continues with woody vegetative management and snow removal on bridges, trails and walks. Performing this work in house versus contracted services results in a savings for taxpayers of nearly $60,000 per year.

The work we perform doesn't begin and end with infrastructure projects. The Public Works Division also oversees the garbage and recycling collection contract, flood buyouts, land-acquisition services for projects to benefit the public, in-house engineering design work, maintenance of traffic signals for the Indiana Department of Transportation, Allen County, New Haven and Huntertown, as well as a partnership with Citilink to maintain signage for its operations.

Our public works assets include 1,167 centerline miles of roadway, 150 miles of alleys, 1,600 miles of sidewalks, 96 bridges, 34,000 street lights and 300 traffic signals. Those figures represent just a few highlights of what we're responsible for maintaining and improving.

I'm also encouraged by the community outreach my staff works on, including the annual Great American Cleanup, neighborhood cleanups, Tox-Away days and Trek the Trails, to name a few. Through hard work, we've been able to gain the trust and respect of neighborhoods and community leaders. We don't take that for granted.

I want to thank our residents who've been patient as we've had to be deliberate with projects this year.

We're making progress, and we know better days are ahead.

Our more than 200 employees in 11 departments are doing everything possible to meet the needs of the community to ensure our transportation system is sustainable and viable now and into the future. Our collective quality of life, new economic development opportunities, and job growth depend on it.

Shan Guna-wardena is director of Public Works for the city of Fort Wayne.

Sign up for our Opinion newsletter

Sent daily