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City alleys now to receive maintenance on regular schedule

Jeremy Lazarus | 8/9/2018, 6 a.m.
The roar of heavy equipment over a backyard fence signals the start of work on another alley. Suddenly, with little ...
William Smyre, a member of a DPW crew, grades an alley Monday in the 2900 block of Barton Avenue in North Side. He was part of a city Department of Public Works crew operating in the East End on Monday. Mariane M. Jorgenson Department of Public Works

The roar of heavy equipment over a backyard fence signals the start of work on another alley.

Suddenly, with little publicity, city alleys are starting to get regular attention and care.

The Richmond Department of Public Works confirms that it has the crews, equipment and funding in place to regularly regrade, regravel and repair the city’s 3,000 alleys on a two- to three-year schedule.

That’s a big change for a city that struggles to keep its streets in good repair and falls short on having the money to repair sidewalks or install new ones.

“We understand that alleys play a key role in the lives of many of our citizens, and we want our citizens to be able to traverse them as easily as possible,” Bobby Vincent, director of the Department of Public Works, stated in an email to the Free Press.

As the result of securing sufficient alley funding, the department no longer is “blitzing” alleys or conducting special repairs, but instead is making alley repairs and improvements “part of our normal maintenance schedule,” Mr. Vincent said.

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Department of Public Works

Jesse Hendren, above, uses a roller to pack down the dirt to improve an alley off Pink Street in Church Hill. He was part of a city Department of Public Works crew operating in the East End on Monday.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration made a big splash of providing more than $700,000 to the department for an “alley blitz” to make improvements to 1,500 alleys last summer and fall. That was five times the number the department was able to improve in 2016, when the funding was far less and only one crew was assigned to handle the work.

Now, two to four crews work daily on alleys, he said.

Mr. Vincent stated that he dropped the “blitz” approach after the mayor and City Council assured him that similar funding was available for alley work in the current 2018-19 budget, enabling DPW to keep the momentum going.

Additional funds for alleys also became available, he stated, as the result of an internal reorganization that allowed the department to accomplish its goals for filling potholes but at less cost.

The department’s goal is to improve 1,300 alleys a year, with all 3,000 city alleys improved at least once every three years. He said about 10 percent, around 300 alleys, would get more frequent service because of high traffic volume or problems with erosion.

He said crews already have improved 500 alleys this year despite frequent heavy rains that have slowed the pace. He said work has been rescheduled for weekends to get more done.