Road conditions to be addressed - but more is needed

WOODBRODGE - The condition of the roads in Woodbridge has many citizens concerned. As time and weather take their toll on the roadways, the town is struggling to manage the integrity of its thoroughfares. Although there has been ongoing maintenance on town roads, the rate of road deterioration is outpacing the town's efforts and budget.

In 1999, the town contracted VHB, INC, an engineering firm, to assess the roads. The firm listed needed repairs, including full depth reclamation. According to Warren Connors, Operational Manager for Woodbridge's Public Works Department, the plan was to go out to bond to finance some of this project. Deciding against bonding, the town began a program of pavement preservation instead. According to Amey Marrella, First Selectwoman of Woodbridge, VHB has indicated that the town is on target with its proposed improvements.

The town has focused on pavement rather than structural restoration by undertaking methods to prolong the life of the pavement. Several procedures have been used to increase the life of the existing roads, such as putting on an overlay of asphalt, chip seal, crack seal and patching. According to Connors, he has treated 174 of 211 roads. As of 2006, Woodbridge, with a total of 81 miles of roads, has asphalted 47 miles and chip sealed 18 miles. These two procedures have successfully preserved many road surfaces.

The above methods, however, do not deal with the structure of the roads. Many roads in town need full depth reclamation, a costly process that entails reclaiming the whole road. Although overlay and sealing has prolonged the life of many of the roads, more and more roads are approaching a state in which the underlying structure of the road must be addressed. When the structural integrity of the road fails, preserving the pavement is no longer effective. As Connors said, "We are in a holding pattern … Why put money into pavement if you are not addressing bigger issues?"

In addition, many of the roads in town have deeper problems, in particular drainage issues. Correcting these problems can be even more costly and time-consuming. Connors referred to an article he recently read. "What are the three criteria for good roads? Drainage. Drainage. Drainage."

The main hurdle facing Woodbridge in dealing with road improvements is funding. The cost to rehabilitate and reclaim the roads will require financing. At this time, Woodbridge has other large expenses straining its resources, such as the Amity School Project. The town is reluctant to incur even more debts. Yet, Connors said, "If you neglect the roads, the roads will start to degrade … and will be more costly."

The road plans are also hampered by understaffing in the Public Works Department. The preservation and structural work that is needed is very labor intensive. The department, however, has fewer employees than in 1999. Although public works request for additional staff was not funded last year, the department will again request more manpower this fiscal year. Connors said, "We've been making it work, but that doesn't make it right. It comes down to a level of service."

Connors stressed that the program to date has effectively increased the longevity of the roads. Most of the overlay methods used can prolong the life of the road by 7-10 years. Connors stated that some of the maintenance interventions have even extended the life of some of the roads up to 30 years. He cautioned, however, "We are closing the gap in roads that can be treated with just an overlay process. We're going to be left with nothing but full depth reclamation dollars."

Connors praised the efforts of his department, saying, "The dpartment has done a remarkable job by doing maintenance … without going to bond."

As of 2006, Connors estimated that 58 roads were current candidates for full depth reclamation, accounting for almost 25 miles. Additionally, Connors compiled a list of "do nothing" roads for the current year that included 120 roads for almost 41 miles. "We are on a borrowed time cycle … Eventually, we can't continue to do nothing."

"Some choices have to be made on how we should continue," warned Connors.

"Our roads are at a critical juncture," said Roger Harrison, former first selectman of Woodbridge. Harrison, a vocal supporter of road improvements, has been pressing for answers from the BOS. Harrison addressed the BOS on Jan. 25 with some suggestions. His four main points included the following: to determine the appropriate size of the Public Works staff; to develop a plan to prioritize and fund needed repairs, including full depth reclamation; to place a life-cycle number on all roads; and to establish specific review dates throughout the year to assess the program.

"I appreciate the time and effort that Roger put into his presentation, and welcome the comments of all Woodbridge residents on our town's road improvement program," said Marrella.

Jim Sabshin, one of the selectmen, said, "This type of discussion is helpful."

Connors said, "He (Roger) should be working for public works."

At this point in time, Connors has not made any choices about roads to be addressed in the coming year. He has drawn up lists of possibilities, but he maintains that he will need to further assess the candidates after the winter months. He said, "Requests from the public don't go unheeded … given the magnitude of the work to do in the town, they (people) might have to expect delays."

Woodbridge is not alone in struggling with failing roads. Many communities are faced with the issue of aging roads and rising repair costs. A recent survey by the Federal Highway Administration revealed that 32 percent of major US roads are in poor or mediocre condition. According to the Connecticut Transportation Institute at UCONN, however, "A properly maintained local road system is vital to the social, economic and environmental well-being of Connecticut municipalities."