"It's a choice between the water flowing in front of my house either in the channel that gets formed by the gouging action of the water," explained James Grassley as we walked along busy North 92nd Street in North Seattle.
Some of the ruts between the street and the sidewalk are as deep as eight inches in places. The erosion runs for two blocks along the parking strip. When it rains, the downhill slope of the street turns the parking strip into a mini-river. The rainy run-off only makes the gouges worse.
"And if you fix the gulch, the water moves over onto the sidewalk," Grassley added.
The city makes it clear that homeowners are responsible for maintaining parking strips. At the same time, homeowners are not supposed to get involved with extensive repairs. Determined to get something done, Grassley called and emailed the city repeatedly.
He contacted both Seattle Public Utilities and the Seattle Department of Transportation, then, as a last resort, he contacted the Problem Solvers.
"I've been told by multiple City of Seattle department that the median strip is my responsibility ... that I need to fix this problem," Grassley said by email. "No doubt each and every home owner along this strip has been told the same thing. The problem with this though is that no one owner along the strip (10ish homes in total) can stop the flow of water. Each can direct the water to the median or to the sidewalk, or attempt to push it back out into the street, but we can't get a river to flow uphill with any more success than we can get the rain to stop falling."
After our calls to the city, An SDOT street maintenance team met us at the property to answer questions and tell Grassley more about the problem and potential solutions. Supervising Civil Engineer Elizabeth Sheldon told us the stretch of North 92nd Street where Grassley lives had already been scheduled for complete repaving.
"Next year, in 2014 we have a plan to repave the street section, as well as add a little asphalt wedge on the edge of the pavement to contain the water." Sheldon said.
But because of the erosion and water problems along the parking strip and sidewalk, a new plan has been developed. Instead of waiting for the major repaving scheduled for later next year, workers are moving now.
"The first step is an interim step.", Sheldon explained, "We're going to go ahead and put some rock down on the edge, to fill in the rut."
The stop gap repairs should start in about a week. A temporary solution until the permanent repaving is done and the city acknowledges that fixing the ruts does mean water will still the sidewalks during heavy rains. But Grassley says he's glad to know that a permanent fix is on the horizon. SDOT insists its crews had already worked out the temporary solution before the Problem Solvers got involved- due to Grassley's persistence. But Grassley says he's convinced the stop gap solution would not be happening so quickly, if he hadn't made noise to the Problem Solvers.
"That you folks were here to help, I think made it all the more likely and the action seemed quicker than in the past." Grassley said.
SDOT reminds Seattle residents that there's a roughly $600 million backlog in arterial street repairs alone, but the actual arterial repair budget is only $20 million a year. As a result, street maintenance crews must prioritize. The city says the best way let crews know about a street-related problem is to contact them by phone at 206- 684-ROAD (684-7623) and leave specific details. You can also report problems online. And even though homeowners are responsible for maintaining parking strips in front of their homes, the city says if you have serious problems such as erosion or flooding, don't take your own steps to address the problem because substandard repair could exacerbate the situation and create safety hazards that will be your responsibility as the homeowner.