Champaign’s road quality slightly decreases overall, but poorer quality roads see improvement

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About one in six road segments, defined as parts of streets, in Champaign were graded very poor, serious or failed in a study conducted by the city’s Public Works department, which concluded most inspections last year.

This is a small improvement over the past three years when CU-CitizenAccess previously reported on the 2020 database, which showed one in five road segments were in very poor, serious or failed condition. Road conditions are measured using the Pavement Condition Index (PCI). The index grades road segments on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 representing a road that has recently been resurfaced or reconstructed.

Urbana City Engineer John Zeman said identifying PCI isn’t as obvious as it may seem.

“The difference between a 40 and a 50 to the untrained eye may not be obvious,” Zeman said. “[PCI] is not always intuitive by the way it feels when you ride on it.”

In Champaign, there are 3,052 road segments recorded in the latest database, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request in October. Most inspection dates were between June 2020 and the end of 2022. 

The average and median grades, 66 and 70 respectively, are slightly less than three years ago and both are considered fair in quality. The 2020 average of 68 was considered fair, but the median of 71 was considered good.

Champaign Assistant City Engineer Chris Sokolowski said a segment of Duncan Road near County Market on Kirby Avenue was recently resurfaced, returning the road’s PCI rating to 100. Previous maps that outline road conditions show this road segment was previously graded as poor.

Duncan Road looking north near County Market on Kirby Avenue was resurfaced this year. Photo provided by Chris Sokolowski.

The city’s 2020 database includes inspection dates from 2017 to 2020. It showed the average road segment in Champaign has a rating of 68, a fair grade. For the scale used by CU-CitizenAccess, there are seven possible grades: failure, serious, very poor, poor, fair, good and very good.

A sample pavement condition index grading scale. Source: ResearchGate

Sokolowski said in a previous article that passenger vehicles have little impact on road degradation, and said degradation occurs by weather and heavy vehicles, like buses, garbage trucks and commercial trucks.

Weather and climate impact the road conditions, especially last year when the temperature reached a high of 101℉ and a low of -9​​℉ in the year 2022 according to Extreme Weather Watch. Sokolowski said throughout the freeze-thaw cycle, the process in which water freezes in the winter and thaws through spring, causes “more opportunities for distresses in the pavement.”

“Illinois winters are harder on pavements than somewhere like Southern California,” Sokolowski said. “Spring, sometimes we call it the pothole season.”

One of the biggest projects in the past year for the City of Champaign was the reconstruction of roads downtown. Images provided by Sokolowski show the improvement of certain road segments downtown.

Champaign’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) details construction budgets for different kinds of roads in the city. For the 2023-24 fiscal year, the city’s asphalt street maintenance budget was $425,000 for engineering services and $375,000 for construction, and the concrete street improvements budget was $550,000 for engineering services and $1,450,000 for construction. 

The plan said the 2023 budgets are aimed towards improving asphalt streets, including: 

  • Market Street between Bradley and Kenyon, 
  • Some neighborhood streets north of University Avenue
  • South of Washington Street and east of First Street

The city’s budget is also aimed towards improving concrete streets like Copper Ridge Road from Mullikin Drive to Copper Road, and Augusta Drive from Robert Drive to Theodore Drive.

Data available on Champaign’s financial transparency portal shows that, since 2020, the city has paid over $10.7 million to Open Road Paving Company LLC, an asphalt paving company based in Urbana. 

Open Road Paving Company did not return a request for comment. The president and CEO of the company is Joe Lamb, who is also president of Champaign Asphalt Company LLC.

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