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Road-weary citizens, manager question town road plan
PARIS— An unmentioned part of the day, roads are innocuous and receive little fanfare.
Unless the they're in bad shape. Then each inch of the pavement becomes a personal insult, each pot-hole revenge, each bump a personal vendetta. When they're noticeable, roads can make people upset very quickly.
Maybe that's why Paris residents have recently been voicing their displeasure. Just when and how they're repaired, along with who gets to decide this, has come under fire recently.
Forrie Everett lives on Ryerson Hill Road in South Paris. At the Oct. 15 meeting of the Paris Board of Selectmen, Mr. Everett, noting that work had begun on his road to construct ditches and install culverts, said that the surface of the road was incredibly poor. He asked what was being done to fix it.
"The word I'm hearing is that the road can't get much worse, so we'll put it off for another year," Everett said.
Road improvements in Paris are guided by the Roadway Improvement Plan, a master document devised in 2012 that projects from step-by-step, the priority of which roads are to be repaired, and the nature of that repair until the year 2022. The plan was originally devised by the Paris Road Committee, the Paris Highway Department, and former Town Manager Phillip Tarr.
Generally, the plan calls for incremental repairs; ditches are dug first, culverts added, then a road is ripped up, a foundation surface paved, and then a top layer of pavement added to finalize the project. On average, these plans call for the town to spend around $450,000 a year.
According to the document, the road Mr. Everett lives on is set to be ditched, and drainage to be installed in 2013. Work on the surface, however, is not scheduled until 2015 when one mile of the road will have its old surface removed, ground, and mixed into a coating for a base pavement. That fact did not sit well with Everett.
"All I'm saying is we have the finest ditches in Oxford County," he said.
The plan is not set in stone. According to Town Manager Amy Bernard, funding year-to-year has a significant impact on whether projects can go forward. The road plan is funded by the town "pay-as-you-go", meaning a shortfall can derail a project specific tasks. Coupled with the fluctuating price of asphalt, and Bernard said that projects can be delayed a year, if not more.
Compiling to the uncertainty are issues that Bernard sees as deep flaws within the plan. Take, for instance, plans to fix the condition of Elm Hill Road. In 2012, a little over eight-tenths of a mile was ditched and drainage was added between High Street and Cottage Street. In 2013, the existing asphalt was ripped up and a foundation pavement placed down. From 2014 to 2015, a total of 3.8 miles of the road will be torn up and a new foundation placed down.
The issue critics of the plan have is that Elm Hill Road, like other roads in the plan, won't have a surface layer of pavement added until 2016. Base pavement has larger, more porous holes in it than surface pavement does. In the winter, water that seeps into the surface's pours expands, creating spring's infamous frost heaves. If a surface layer is added however, the rate at which the road deteriorates is reduced.
This means that certain sections of Elm Hill Road will be left without a surface layer for roughly three years, exposed to the elements and winter's damage. According to Bernard, the flaws in the document began with those who were supposed to create it. Though the Road Committee worked arduously to complete the plan, the town engineer was never called in to finalize the work. Instead, the project was signed off by Tarr.
According to the former engineer who worked with the Road Committee during the initial stages of the plan, that isn't altogether uncommon for towns to do. Robert Prue of Pine Tree Engineering in Bath, serves as the town's engineer and worked with Tarr on the Road Improvement Plan. He said that depending on a road's usage, it might not necessarily deteriorate if a few years elapse between foundation and surface pavings.
Prue said he worked with Tarr and committee members during the initial stages of the project to come up with cost estimates, but did not provide recommendations for prioritizing repairs. According to Prue, neither he nor anyone from the engineering firm oversaw approval of the final plan.
The process Tarr and committee members took to devise the plan was far from impromptu, according to Tarr. The former town manager used technology from Maine Department of Transportation called Road Service Maintenance System, which ranked roads from one to ten prioritizing which to repair first. From there, road usage became another deciding factor - as did politics.
Tarr stood behind the plan, calling its proposals "good". He said that the actions he took involved input from many different sides, including the Road Committee, Selectmen, Maine Department of Transportation officials, Prue, and residents.
On Elm Hill, for instance, he noted that laying foundation pavement and waiting before adding a top layer allowed the Highway Department to fix underlying faults before they became systemic. Many towns, he said, forgo even adding a surface layer.
Tarr said that although Prue never officially signed off on the final document, he felt confident after showing the engineer the plan and being told to go ahead and find funding for it.
Tarr said the plan was never suppose to be a unilateral force; the town, he felt, should hold yearly meetings to discuss the issue. Revision was always intended.
"A plan was always as good as it was written," Tarr said.
According to Bernard, the plan can be amended without scrapping it and starting from the beginning.
Everett said that committee members should take a walk in his shoes when making their decision on when to improve the road.
"We have a road that's not acceptable. I think every one of you should pour a cup of coffee, get in your vehicles and drive up it. Not just once, do it two to three times a day for about a week," said Everett.
"People up there are getting a little grumpy," he continued.
Everett's concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. Bernard said the Road Committee, which was invited by selectmen to reform earlier this month, is meeting on Oct. 29 to patch the holes in the project.