Looking to take a more strategic, systematic approach to road maintenance and repair, town officials are considering having an engineering firm study Ridgefield’s roughly 190 miles of roads, make recommendations, and set up a computer program and database that town workers can then use to track the conditions, maintenance histories and repair needs of all roads.
“A key component is keeping up with it over time,” Town Engineer Charles Fisher told the Board of Selectmen last Wednesday. “It will eventually be done in-house. But you need somebody to come in set it up.”
The town has gotten a $58,000 proposal from the engineering firm Vanasse Hagen Brustlin of Middletown, which did a study of road conditions for Southington. First Selectman Rudy Marconi had Mr. Fisher and town Director of Public Services Peter Hill come before the selectmen to discuss the plan, to see if there was support for pursuing the study as part of the 2013-14 budget.
No one opposed the idea, but there was some hesitancy about the cost.
“I’m not sure we want to spend $58,000,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners.
Mr. Fisher said there was quite a bit involved in the study.
“They have more experience in pavement,” he said.
“They go out and physically drive every road in town.”
The engineers photograph the road surfaces and categorize cracks in the pavement.
“Crack thickness, crack type — there are 12 different types of cracking you have to study,” Mr. Fisher said.
Selectman Andy Bodner, who has advocated more spending on road maintenance, was eager to get going. Rather than make the money for the study part of the next budget, he said, why not begin the study now? Then the engineers’ recommendations could be used to put forward in the next budget a roads appropriation that would be the start of the multi-year repair initiative.
“I’d suggest we ask for a special, immediate allocation from the Board of Finance, so we can get it done now,” he said of the study.
“I’d like to see another price from another company,” Maureen Kozlark said.
There was no vote, but an informal consensus that Mr. Marconi should look into getting more bids while also working on a proposal for a special appropriation to put before the finance board.
Mr. Marconi’s talk of the Southington road study dates back to April, when the finance board cut the selectmen’s proposed road maintenance budget from $1.5 million to $1.2 million, which was approved by voters in the May budget referendum.
In April the finance board’s new Democratic majority supported the $300,000 reduction to the selectmen’s road spending request, saying there should be a plan.
“As a taxpayer, I want to make sure there’s value behind my dollar,” member Jessica Mancini said. “I think a plan quantifies that.”
Selectman Bodner objected to the $300,000 cut. With the cost of asphalt rising, he has been concerned the town isn’t doing enough road repaving each year to keep up.
“We, as a Board of Selectmen, said you need to do 10 to 15 miles of road a year,” he said. “That $1.5 million buys eight or nine miles.”
In an interview last week, Mr. Marconi said that having a study and a road maintenance plan along the lines of Southington’s would help the selectmen gain support for more adequate roads spending.
“During the budget cycle last year, the Board of Finance actually decreased the amount of money requested for road infrastructure improvements in the capital plan,” he said.
“Much of the discussion then centered around the fact that we have no formal assessment tool for our roads that elected officials could use as a barometer for the condition of our roads.”
He said the selectmen’s previous approach to understanding the road maintenance situation had been something of a simplification.
The town has 13 collector roads, 315 local streets, 90 tertiary roads, and 54 private roads.
“You can’t just take a simple formula and say, ‘Let’s say we have 200 miles of roads in town, we do eight miles a year, therefore it’s going to take us 25 years to do all of our roads.’ That formula does not work,” Mr. Marconi said.
“There are many roads, such as tertiary roads that are far less traveled, whose life is much longer due to the little use they receive.”
Some roads are much more heavily used. Other factors that affect a road’s longevity include how the road was built and the geography it traverses.
“A primary road such as Farmingville, where not only do you have heavier traffic but also a section through the wetland area, was originally built as a logging road — trees were cut, the logs laid down, and the base of the road built from there,” Mr. Marconi said.
“That road usually lasts for approximately 10 years and requires, at least in that section, a complete rebuilding, due to the poor base, due to the amount of traffic, due to the wet conditions in and around the surrounding area.”
The engineering study would involve a comprehensive look at all the roads and their current condition.
“They photograph them, do an assessment of the roads based on the existing quality of the pavement, the base, traffic movements, all the variables that enter into the life of a road,” he said.
Three or four town employees would be trained in assessing the roads and entering updated condition reports on them into the database set up by the consulting engineers. The town would also get a computer program with all the information on the roads, which Mr. Fisher envisioned being loaded onto hand-held computer devices that the trained town workers could take out with them when they periodically survey the roads.
This would make the more accurate road condition assessments an ongoing program, which makes sense to Mr. Marconi since roads’ conditions vary with time, use, weather, all kinds of things.
“The severity of one winter can take years off the life of a road, with a lot of thawing and freezing and rain. It provides continual movement of the base, of the asphalt, yielding cracks, potholes, etc.,” he said.
“Mild winters, on the other hand, have a tendency to extend the life of a road.”