Rep. Jim Himes: It's a 'fiscal ramp,' not a 'cliff'

Jim Himes

The Board of Selectmen began a preliminary discussion on a proposed road maintenance and resurfacing plan at its Monday, Nov. 19, meeting.

First Selectman Natalie Ketcham said she and Highway Superintendent Jeff Hanson had been discussing the idea for the plan for quite some time. They waited to present it until after Mr. Hanson had attended a “Pavement Restoration” program at the University of Connecticut.

Mr. Hanson said there was discussion on road repair tools that can be used in place of reclaiming roads and noted that they are methods that have been used for year. Road reclamation, he said, “is expensive.”

It costs 40 cents per square yard to crack-seal a road, compared to $20 per square yard to reclaim a road, Mr. Hanson said.

At the conference, he said, it was recommended that towns take care of their good roads, the ones in best shape, first. “It is more cost-effective to take care of this investment instead of waiting for the road to disintegrate and then try to bring it back to life,” he said.

Mr. Hanson said he and his foreman have begun rating the town’s roads in an effort to determine priorities for a road maintenance plan. They are about halfway through with the job, he said.

The town’s consulting engineers came up with roadway maintenance guidelines, but that just shows how to repair defects in the road, he said. “We need to identify the roads and their condition and then decide whether to crack-seal or reclaim them or do something in the middle.”

Mr. Hanson said there are firms that will come up with an actual plan and software that would allow him to track the conditions of roads, or he may try to do the work in-house.

There are a number of ways to repair roads, he said, including crack-sealing, which he plans to do on some roads because it is inexpensive,  and using an overlay if a road is not “too bad.”

Scarification, which is milling the asphalt surface and then applying an overlay, and hot-in-place recycling, which grinds, mills and replaces a road surface, are not good choices, he indicated, because they require at least three inches of asphalt. Many of the town’s roads have two inches of asphalt over oil and stone roads, he said.

At the conference, it was recommended that if a road is not quite ready for reclamation, “you might get six or seven more years by using these lesser treatments,” Mr. Hanson said. However, if the town opts to take care of its good roads, then some people will be angry if they live on a bad road, he said.

His budget won’t sustain road reclamation, Mr. Hanson added.

“Your budget was never designed to do that, said Ms. Ketcham, adding the town has bonded for this kind of work. The town could perhaps do a combination of road maintenance and some reclamation, she said.

Selectman Donald Takacs asked about a prior road study. Ms. Ketcham said it predated Mr. Hanson’s tenure with the town and it was very expensive to implement.

“The process to rate roads is very simple,” said Mr. Takacs, adding usage and life expectancy should be taken into account.

Mr. Hanson said that is how the roads are being rated. He and his foreman looked at things like potholes and cracks. “We could also look at drainage, but we were sticking with pavement,” he said.

Mr. Takacs wanted to know if there was a way to engage residents in the process.

“To a point that is being done,” said Mr. Hanson, “but I’m looking at the whole picture and residents are looking at a small piece. I am getting a lot of feedback when we start to work on a road.”

“Typically, your department gets many more calls than other departments,” said Ms. Ketcham. “People know their roads and bring their issues to your attention.”

Selectman Julia Pemberton said it is a great idea to be proactive, but cautioned that when people are asked for opinions it raises expectations, and the work might not get done.

Mr. Hanson said the media is informed when roadwork is being done and the work is listed on the town’s website, giving people the opportunity to get in touch with his department about the work.

Mr. Hanson said his preliminary analysis of road ratings will be done in time for his budget requests for the next fiscal year. He said he will research to see if there is self-help software available, which would eliminate the need for hiring an engineering firm to help with the road maintenance plan.

“The consensus is it’s best if we do this ourselves,” said Mr. Takacs.

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