March 20, 2008 
Potholes hit DPW budget hard


Long after the snow has melted beneath the warm rays of spring sunshine, New Hampshire towns will still be feeling Mother Nature’s wrath. This time, it won’t be barraging residents from the sky. Instead, it will hit them under their tires.

“I was coming from Hannaford the way I come up every day,” said Jane Stanton-Turcotte of Goffstown. “I come up the road, wasn’t paying attention and bang! It was horrifying. I drive a car that can take anything, but my eggs went everywhere. “When I opened the back of my hatch, it looked like someone had already made breakfast.”

Public Works and Highway departments across the state are struggling with how to fix poor road conditions, and many towns are also struggling with budget issues as an extremely harsh winter winds down.

During Hopkinton’s annual Town Meeting, voters approved the addition of $53,000 to the Public Works Department budget, as selectmen informed voters that the town has already gone over its allowance in salt and sand, and is on pace to do so in several other areas.

Goffstown Director of Public Works Carl Quiram said this winter has been the most devastating in a long time.

“It has been the worst in recent memory, and it’s just the way the weather has been,” said Quiram. “It’s been an unwinnable battle with potholes. We have a lot of new potholes on roads we wouldn’t have anticipated.”

Stanton-Turcotte’s pothole disaster happened on Laurel Road off College Road in Goffstown. “The sign says ‘Frost Heaves,’ but that’s not what it should say. It should say ‘Caution: Amusement Park Ahead,’” she said. “They (potholes) are everywhere.

Just going down St. A’s Drive is terrible, and so is my street. We have Manchester beat this year. It’s like when you go in the ocean and float over the big swells, except you’re driving in the street.”

Budget dilemmas

For Quiram, in addition to the battle with potholes, his and other departments in town are facing another battle.

“We took some heavy budget cuts, so it’ll make for an extremely tough year. You do what you have to do,” Quiram said. “We’re not going to not salt roads because we have no money. That’s where the policy comes in. Are we just going to ride it out? Or do we have to hold off on some summer projects?”

Jim Stanford, Bedford’s Director of Public Works, said he has not yet run into issues with salt, as the town built a new salt shed in 2004, and has been able to stock up in that area.

Working on a calendar year budget, Stanford said he is not sure yet what financial challenges his department will face. “I’ll let you know in November,” he joked. “You look at a day like today and say maybe we’re through this. But in November and December you never know. The sun is a lot higher now, so if it snows, it doesn’t stick around as long.”

Stanford said Bedford is not having as many struggles with potholes as other towns, but is struggling in other areas. “It’s not so much the potholes, but more the deterioration of the pavement and the frost heaves,” said Stanford. “It isn’t like all of the sudden one pothole pops up, but we have roads where the whole section of pavement has failed.”

Bedford has a computerized pavement management database that shows every road in town as well as its length, when it was constructed and the condition of it.

Although two road bonds in Bedford were defeated on Election Day, Stanford said the town still has money left from two previous road bonds.

Dale Hemeon, Hooksett director of highways, said the routine for his workers is the same on a daily basis. “I send out a crew for potholes every day if it isn’t snowing,” he said. “To end this battle, you put them in today and they’re gone tomorrow. It’s been a rough winter. There’s been a lot of damage. It’s really strange.”

Hemeon said he is far over on his overtime, fuel and salt budgets. The town’s budget goes from July 1 until the end of June, so Hooksett still has just over three months remaining on its current budget.

Another problem on the roads has come with the amount of snow.

“The tough part was that we have no more room to put snow. The banks are so high. We need to just get through until April when we can get some asphalt,” said Hemeon. “For the first month of spring we’ll be out paving and patching roads.”

Bow’s Chum Cleverly goes against the Public Works norm in neighboring towns, as he said this winter has been no different from other winters in his recent memory.

“We haven’t done much different from other years. Every year is average. Some years there a few more on some roads, and none on others. It’s always similar,” said the Public Works director, who said he has the most trouble with roads that were paved long ago.

Cleverly said he does expect cost issues for next year, with prices on the rise.

“Trying to keep the roads in good shape with the increasing cost of asphalt is big. Next year, we’re expecting a 30 percent rise in cost of salt,” he said. “I assume that the manufacturing and transportation is the cause of that with the increased cost of oil. I just talked to two truckers who have parked their trucks and won’t move until cost of fuel goes down.”

Temporary fix

Departments are constantly putting cold patch, a compound that is only meant as a temporary fix, into potholes. Hot top is not available for towns until sometime in April, which means many departments are fixing the same potholes on a daily basis.

“The people have to understand that at this time of year, these situations are beyond our control, it’s Mother Nature. Drivers have to slow down and make sure they have proper air inflation in their tires so they don’t blow their tires out,” said Russell.

“Some of them we could patch three times a day. The cold patch is a temporary fix, that’s it. Nothing replaces putting hot top in.”

Russell said the Salem department already has to turn its attention toward potential flooding in addition to filling potholes. His workers are spread thin.

“I have 12 employees who are dedicated to the streets for a town this big to maintain all of the sidewalks and drainage,” he said. “People think we have a 400-man department, but we don’t. We have 41 total in the Department of Public Works, but only 12 assigned to that section.”

In Hooksett, Hemeon summed up what many Public Works employees are feeling across the Granite State. “It’s been a long, frustrating winter for everyone – my guys and the residents,” he said. “Hopefully, spring isn’t too far away.”



Reproduced by the Goffstown Residents Association.


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