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Do town roads get enough care?

Cracked and patched pavement on St. Johns Road shows the toll New England winters take on roads. By spending about $1.3 million a year, the town can keep up with maintenance needs, an engineering firm’s study suggests. —Macklin Reid photo

With New England winters and pavement costs driven by the rising price oil, is the town spending enough on road maintenance?

“Can we spend more? We can always spend more,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said after reviewing an engineering firm’s report on the town’s roads and more than $1-million-a-year repaving program.

“In essence the report verifies the amount of money being spent, and that there are relatively few miles of roads in town that are in such poor condition they would require major reconstruction,” Mr. Marconi said.

The selectmen hired the engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Middletown last fall to do a study that would authoritatively document the condition of the town’s roads and could be used to back up their annual budget request for road maintenance.

During last spring’s budget process, the selectmen sought to increase spending on road repaving from $1.2 million to $1.5 million a year. The Board of Finance cut the request $300,000 saying there was no plan quantifying the need.

The engineering firm’s report was on the agenda of Wednesday night’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

“In summary our study found that the average pavement condition in the Town of Ridgefield is comparable to the average of other municipalities in the region. In our evaluation, there are relatively few miles in town in such poor condition that they require major reconstruction,” the consultants wrote.

“We have estimated that the town’s historical road program funding level of $1.3 million is appropriate to maintain or make a slight improvement to the overall average conditions over time,” the study said.

This assertion addresses a concern the selectmen had repeatedly expressed: that with asphalt costs rising, the town was falling behind, repaving fewer miles of roads each year.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Marconi said he was reluctant to reach conclusions before hearing Public Works Director Peter Hill’s thoughts on the report.

Mr. Hill “will play a very critical part in the decision,” he said. “His daily job is taking care of our roads and there’s no one in this town that has traveled the amount of miles on our local roads than Peter Hill.”

Using a scale of 0 to 100, Mr. Marconi said, the consultants gave the town’s roads an overall rating of 75.

The mid-70s rating that most Ridgefield’s roads had means they need “preventative maintenance.” With increased spending, the report said, the town could bring them up to the low to mid 80s, where only “routine maintenance” is needed

“If we were to increase our budget from the $1.3 million to $2 million a year we should see an index increase from a 75 to an 82,” Mr. Marconi said.

He doubted it would be worth it.

“You’d need to spend $2 million a year and I don’t think we need to spend that kind of money,” he said.

“It’s almost impossible to think that in our New England weather environment, with tremendous swings in temperatures, freezing, thawing, rain, snow, frost, that we can realistically be much above an 83 to an 85, with all of our roads. Nor do we need to be.

“The bottom line is we’re a 75. If we spend $2 million we’d go up to an 82,” he said.

“The question for the board is: Where do you want our roads to be? I happen to think our roads are in pretty damn good shape, as does Mr. Hill, our director of public works.”

Other board members may feel differently, but Mr. Marconi said the current program of spending $1.2 million or $1.3 million a year on roads seemed reasonable.

“We feel our spending is in line with maintaining good roads for the people of Ridgefield,” he said.

The engineers’ report catalogues a “current roadway pavement backlog” listing how many miles of roads need different levels of work, and estimating repair costs:

  • 44.1 miles require the town to “do nothing,” which has no cost;
  • 24.4 miles need “routine maintenance” at an estimated cost of $462,000;
  • 48.5 miles need “preventative maintenance” costing $1,584,000;
  • 29.1 miles will need “mill and overlay,” at an estimated cost of $12,610,000;
  • 22.1 miles “need base rehabilitation” costing $3,609,000.

Addressing the “current roadway pavement backlog” for all 168.2 miles of roadway would total up to $18,265,000, according to the consultants.

“About two-thirds of the current backlog of pavement improvement needs in town is associated with roads that are in need of a mill and overlay type treatment,” they wrote.

To do the study the consultants used “specialized pavement management software” that  had been “configured to model the pavement practices” of the town.

For their $50,000 fee, the consultants will turn over the town the database they put together of pavement conditions, as well as the software, so the Highway Department can keep an updated rating of the roads to guide its future work plans and budget requests.

“In addition to this survey of our roads,” Mr. Marconi said, “we will have a pavement management software program installed that will be part of the annual budget submission, monitoring our road status on an annual basis.”

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  • rdg-oldtimer

    Certainly not perfect, but a LOT better than Danbury.Their roads are horrible. If a road needs repair, call the highway department. Don’t wait and think someone else will call. YOU are the “someone else”!

  • CMcQuilken

    I don’t think we needed to spend $50,000 on a study by an outside group so they could give us a list of our potholes.

    Nothing against the outside group. I’m sure they are good at what they do. But I don’t think we needed to spend such a large amount of money for someone to tell us what we already should know.

    I think we do far too many studies in this town.

  • Delving

    I’ve called the highway department twice about the horrible state of our dead-end road. They’re very nice on the phone, but they always seem to “lose” my request to fill the potholes. It’s been TWO YEARS and nothing’s been done.

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