Dogged by potholes, Adams asks for state help with Route 8

Howland Avenue in Adams is in such a state of disrepair that a local state representative and the town are seeking help from the state to fix it.

ADAMS — For years, Howland Avenue has been the source of many drivers' howls about pot holes and car damage.

Town Administrator Jay Green and state Rep. John Barrett III are looking to fix it.

The problem is that, while the cojoined Howland Avenue and Curran Highway are part of Route 8, the highway in North Adams is a state road. Starting at the Adams town line, the four-lane, 1-mile strip of Howland Avenue is not. That means it is town road, and therefore the town is responsible for maintenance and repair. But the cost of fixing the stretch of troublesome thoroughfare would break the town's entire annual budget for road work, which is about $275,000 in state funding.

"It is beyond our capabilities," Green said. "That's why the town is seeking a solution to this because it's just too expensive — it exceeds our Chapter 90 allotment (state money for road work). We have started a conversation to find a way to solve that without breaking the Adams taxpayers' backs."

So, the town is working with officials in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to find alternatives.

"I have been in conversations with the state to get some money, to at least do an overlay this year, to give us some time to find funding for a total reconstruction," Barrett said.

Two options he can see are to get MassDOT to pay for the town to rebuild the road, or to transfer it to the state for oversight, much like Curran Highway.

"It seems like that would be the best solution, but it's not the easiest," Barrett said.

He noted that MassDOT did a rebuild on Curran Highway last summer and stopped at the Adams town line, leaving Howland Avenue looking even more decrepit than before. As a result, a torrent of public comment focused on how some won't even drive in the slow lane anymore — which has the most acute damage — causing people to drive more slowly in the passing lane and others to pass them on the right, which could cause a traffic calamity.

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And every spring there is howling aplenty about bigger potholes and damage to vehicle suspensions.

Barrett and Green noted that Howland Avenue is a major thoroughfare with traffic levels that exceed 15,000 vehicles a day, many of which are heavy trucks bound for mining company Specialty Minerals. Many others are travelers coming to visit cultural attractions in North Adams and Williamstown.

"It really takes a beating," Barrett said. "And that is a main route in and out of North County. In its current state, it doesn't do much for the image of either Adams or North Adams. More and more people are using Route 8, so it's real important we have a functional road there."

"It's a gateway to Adams and North Adams — a doorway for us," Green said. "And as soon as you hit the town line, your perception is a little different — an untrue first impression of Adams."

Barrett said he is optimistic that an overlay (a temporary coat of asphalt over the existing roadway) could get done this year, but he said he is not convinced that it will happen. If it does though, it should last three to five years, giving them time to iron out any obstacles to a rebuild.

"Either way, it has to be addressed," Barrett said.

Green said that so far, the talks are going well.

"MassDOT has been very open to this discussion," he said. "And as usual, this is not an easy situation to resolve, but we need to start now to come up with a real solution, not just a quick fix."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.