In Pittsfield's growing pothole problem, mayor asks for patience

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PITTSFIELD — Forget spring. Hot asphalt season is around the corner.

That means pothole patching begins in earnest and crews start repaving streets on this year's must-do list.

Meantime, Mayor Linda Tyer and her staff ask for patience and vigilance.

"Please be patient while we work our way around the city," Tyer said in an email to The Eagle, asking residents to report potholes "and drive carefully."

On Monday the city's Public Services Department released a list of roads slated to get repaved this year — a point on the minds of many as potholes increasingly creep under the tires of residents and visitors. While there's only so much that crews can do each year to fill holes, city leaders have begun batting around ideas for tackling the city's deteriorating roads.

One such idea came last month from Councilors Chris Connell and Melissa Mazzeo, who say half of the city's incoming marijuana taxes should be used toward annual road work.

"It ensures a constant stream of revenue to roads, even if we can't borrow every year," Connell said of the proposal.

Tyer said initially she wasn't opposed to the idea, but 50 percent of the new taxes might be too high. She said Monday that she is still considering the proposal, and is reaching out to individual councilors as she does.

But roadwork isn't the only city service that could use a cash infusion, she said.

"Roads are listed by several members of the City Council and there are other ideas that I believe have merit," she said.

Public Services Commissioner David Turocy said the city is surely falling behind on road maintenance, and it stems from one problem: lack of resources.

"We recognize the condition of the roads out there, and we're trying our best to keep up with them," he said.

The city typically spends upward of $2 million a year on road work, plus about $1.5 million in Chapter 90 reimbursements from the state. The city's portion is often borrowed.

Before the City Council passed a ban on chip seal amid public outcry last year, that sum would get the city about 13 miles of road work, Turocy said. Without the less expensive surface treatment, those dollars will pay for about 10 miles.

The city would need to redo about 15 miles each year in order to start getting ahead of aging roads, Turocy said.

This year, city officials said, the city will likely spend about $2 million to repave 9.6 miles across 34 different city streets.

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"It's a matter of managing the funds we have and tackling what the winter left over," said Ricardo Morales, the city's engineer. "We're gonna work as diligently as we can."

Hot and cold

Temperature swings mean snow melts and fills crevices in the roads, then freezes and expands when temperatures drop again, enlarging holes in the roads.

City crews use cold patch for the largest, most pressing potholes while they wait for roads to warm up and for hot asphalt plants to open, Turocy said. Plants typically open in March or early April, Morales said.

Connell said his constituents are "up in arms" about the deteriorating conditions, and said the Public Services Department should avoid using corrosive road salt. He also said cold patch is a waste of time and money.

"I'd like to ban it like we did chip seal, personally," he said.

But Turocy said cold patch is sometimes the only option. The city is capable of mixing its own hot asphalt in small batches, he said, but the weather must also be dry and warm in order for the patch to hold.

"It's a limited amount and you need a little bit better weather," he said.

Workers have been able to mix hot patch over a few days so far this season, Turocy said, but have used cold patch the rest of the time. Since cold patches don't usually hold up, Morales said, the city is using it only when necessary.

Pittsfield will ramp up its pothole patching efforts once crews have plenty of hot asphalt at their disposal, they said. Still, in the meantime Turocy said it's helpful for residents to document potholes in PittSMART, an online tool and app that residents can use to report issues.

The older the road, the more susceptible it is to potholes.

"We need to start getting caught up on some of these roads," Turocy said.

If there are stretches of road where the potholes are heavily concentrated, Turocy said, he might try to repave only that specific stretch. When choosing which streets to repave, he said the city prioritizes high-traffic and higher-speed areas, and also tries to geographically spread the investment around the city.

The current year's road work is going out to bid within the next couple of weeks and will start in April or May. Morales said he's budgeting $3.7 million upfront and is requesting $1.7 million in state reimbursements.

He has also set aside a separate list of roads that the city will work on in-house, with city staff hours. But Turocy said that potential work depends on how much time the crews have left over.

"What I would ask is for patience," Morales said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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