Pothole Season—A Scourge for Drivers and City Staff

Potholes on Stone Cutters Way. Photo by Phil Dodd.

By Phil Dodd

Was this the worst winter ever for potholes in Montpelier? Retired attorney Jim Clemons, who was born in 1951, raised in Montpelier, and now lives in East Montpelier, thinks so. “I’ve never seen the potholes in Montpelier so pervasive,” he said.  His opinion is likely shared by a lot of drivers who have been dodging innumerable potholes (and frost heaves) this winter, both in the city and around the state

Tom McArdle, head of Montpelier’s Public Works Department, was a bit more cautious when asked the same question. McArdle’s response: “I think the potholes this year are a little worse than usual, though last season was pretty brutal as well.” Climate extremes, such as repeated freeze-thaw cycles and frequent snow and rain episodes, have taken a toll on the city’s roads, he said. Water gets into cracks in the pavement and, when it freezes, can cause potholes to form, sometimes literally overnight.

McArdle noted that potholes started appearing early in the winter and “we haven’t had good conditions to patch.” At this time of year, the city uses cold patch—which does not last long—to fill potholes, and patching can’t be done when the potholes are filled with snow, ice, or water, McCardle said. Of course, city workers have also been busy with other pressing matters this winter, such as plowing a lot of snow and repairing water main breaks.

A more long-lasting solution will come when the local asphalt plant opens up in mid-April, McArdle said. The hot mix used to fill potholes later in the spring holds up better than cold patch. “When the plant opens, we are usually up there on the first day or right after that,” he noted.

Because the Bailey Street bridge is in such bad shape, the city is considering trucking in some hot mix from Massachusetts soon to make repairs there, he said. Hot mix was already brought in this winter to patch steep sections of Nelson and Ridge streets where a water main broke. But bringing in hot mix from out of state is “tremendously expensive,” McArdle noted.

The Bailey Street bridge is probably one of the more hazardous roads in the city right now although Stone Cutters Way, Granite Street, and the eastern end of Barre Street have offered up plenty of gaping holes this year. However, Steve Sease, a resident of North Street, thinks his street could be the worst.

Photo by Phil Dodd

On March 11, Sease said: “You can dodge most of the potholes and bumps on lower North Street, but for about 200 yards between Mechanic and Hillhead you have to just plow through the minefield, at about one mile per hour, listening to your front end disintegrate. And when you clear that mess, there is another street-wide trap just past Hillhead where experienced drivers are now pulling so far to the right to avoid the bump that their right-side tires are off the pavement and onto dirt—a far smoother ride than the so-called pavement.”

McArdle said he would like to repave North Street sooner, but it is not on the list for work this summer. He also said he wishes the city could get to other streets such as Hubbard Street at the Barre Street end, Spring Street between Elm and Summer, and East State Street, but those projects will have to wait for future funding, too. For a list of the roads in Montpelier that will be repaved this summer, see sidebar.

McArdle is disappointed that Gov. Phil Scott’s administration has talked about scaling back state road funding, saying such a step is “going backward and not keeping up with inflation or demand.” The city receives money for care and maintenance and repaving and rehabilitation projects for certain heavily traveled roads.

For example, for this summer’s repaving of the eastern end of Barre Street, a Class 2 road, Montpelier will receive $175,000 from the state—the maximum Class 2 grant—and will spend about $120,000 of its own money, he said. Obtaining funds from the state for Class 2 road repairs is very competitive, McCardle added, especially since a few years ago when Montpelier was lumped into a transportation district with Chittenden County, which has many Class 2 roads.

Montpelier could use more state funding to help with bridge repairs, too, he said. The Bailey Street bridge will be patched as soon as possible, but a new deck membrane and wearing surface replacement will probably not happen until the next time Route 2 is paved by the state, in two to three years, McArdle said. In addition, the School Street bridge needs to be painted, he said, and the Granite Street bridge needs a new deck.

The city’s own funding for infrastructure and roads had fallen behind when the city council decided some years ago to boost spending on facilities, equipment, and infrastructure projects (other than water and wastewater) by about $1 million, with the increases spread over five years. Today, the city spends about $600,000 of its own money on repaving each year, McArdle said.

Should the city’s repaving budget be increased further? “The paving budget has been increased to a ‘steady state’ level to achieve the established pavement condition index goals,” McArdle said.  “We support this funding plan.”

Of course, if the city had a million dollars on hand, “I could spend it right now,” he said. “But with everything paid for by the property tax, we have to be careful.”

Montpelier Roads Scheduled For Repaving This Summer

• Stone Cutters Way.

• Barre Street, from Charles Street to Pioneer Street bridge.

• Clarendon Avenue (to include water, sewer and utility work and to also include some paving on nearby Dewey, Jordan, Redstone, and Dwinell streets).

• Greenfield Terrace.

• Deerfield Drive.

• Gallison Hill Road (Rt. 2 to stream crossing at base of hill).

• Taylor Street (to include storm drains, sidewalk improvements, and lighting).

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