2015-12-18 / Community

Board reviews road projects

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — After months of advance work by town staff, selectmen finally reviewed a long-awaited priority list of recommended road repairs.

But now, with the list of potential projects topping $21 million, the ball is in their court.

Selectmen agreed to take two weeks to digest the report presented at their Dec. 8 meeting by Town Manager Barry Tibbetts. They’ll return at their Dec. 22 meeting to vote on what they’d like to see for a minimum average road condition in town, and a time-frame for getting there.

If they accept Tibbetts’ recommendation, that vote will be to increase the pavement condition index, or PCI, by 10 points, townwide, bringing most roads up to a PCI score of 65-to-70 on a 100-point scale.

To do that over three years would mean borrowing $1.67 million each year, or about $500,000 more than the town now spends annually on road repairs. According to Kennebunk Finance Director Joel Downs, payments on the 10-year bonds would range from $200,000 in year one, up to $600,000 after year three. That would add 10 cents per year to the mil rate, he said, topping out at a 30-cent increase. That would mean a tax hike of $25 per year to the median single-family home in Kennebunk, assessed at $250,000. By year three, that hike would be $75, not counting any other increase in municipal or school spending.

Still, selectmen seemed to feel that of all things they could spend the people’s money on, roads came very near, if not at, the top of the list.

“This is an expenditure that touches every single person through every set of tires. Every person benefits from this,” Selectman Richard Morin said.

Selectmen also expressed enthusiasm for Tibbetts’ road report, generated on a software program called PAVER 7, made available by the federal government.

“I’m really impressed with this,” said Selectmen Ed Karytko, who lamented that he seems to have developed a reputation since his June election for being negative.

“I’ve been harping on roads, roads, roads and I’m really happy to see this,” he said. “I think we’ve taken a major step in understanding what needs to be done.”

Selectman Christopher Cluff agreed, deeming the PAVER report “phenomenal.”

“I feel like we’ve really stepped into the 21st century here,” he said.

However, Cluff was quick to sound a note of fiscal concern.

“I know there is a ladder truck [request] out there and a few other things that are going to cost a considerable chunk of change,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re also looking at this at budget time, that we don’t get too excited about this and forget about those other things.”

Morin backed Cluff’s point, noting the pain will come when selectmen sit down with Kennebunk’s volunteer budget board early in the new year to parse each new spending request.

“This is the cheapest part of the process,” he quipped, referring to acceptance of Tibbetts’ report.

According to Tibbetts, the software only cost “about a couple hundred dollars.” Over the summer, members of the town’s public works crew trained on the PAVER program entered data they gathered on a townwide assessment of road conditions. That meant traveling all 112 miles of road in town and stopping every 100 to 200 yards to study road conditions, using a list of 19 different criteria.

From that, the program split on a PCI number for different lengths of each road.

The result was a data set that showed 32.1 percent of Kennebunk Roads to be in “good” condition, meaning a PCI of 86-100 points. Another 19.5 percent was deemed to be “satisfactory,” (PCI 71-85) and 14.4 percent ranked “fair,” (PCI 56-70).

That, Tibbetts said, means 66 percent of Kennebunk’s road miles requires minimal money, comparatively, to maintain. To simplify the PCI scoring methodology, he gave the top three ranks letter grades of A, B and C.

Coming in at what Tibbetts terms a D+ were 10.4 percent of roads, ranked “poor” by the PAVER program with a PCI score of 41-55. However, Tibbetts noted those roads, too, can be brought up to standard with relatively little in capital outlay.

“The good news,” Tibbetts said, is that most major roads, as well as so-called “collector roads” – those that funnel traffic from local streets to the major thoroughfares – score in the C or better ranks.

“You don’t have a lot of arterial roads where we have major problems, and on the collector roads, there are only maybe four to five that we ought to take a look at,” he said.

The real problem, Tibbetts said, is the next three ranks of “very poor” (PCI 28-40), “serious” (PCI 11-25) and “failed” (PCI 0-10). Those ranks account for 10, 7.2 and 6.3 percent of Kennebunk Roads respectively, or 24 percent of all road miles in town.

A greater portion of rural roads, mainly the low-traffic roads in various subdivisions and town streets, fall into the lower grades. Of those road types, as many as 28 percent scored a D+ or lower, Tibbetts said.

At issue, he noted, is that the cost of maintaining a road tends to be a gently falling plateau over time. However, once a road reaches a certain state of disrepair, degradation advances quickly and the cost to bring it back up to par “drops off a cliff,” Tibbetts said.

At that cliff, paving costs can suddenly spike up to five times the usual maintenance costs for a skim coat of paving overlay, Tibbetts said, adding that this cost only includes the pavement, not ditching, drainage or road base reconstruction.

For example, a stretch of Bayberry Avenue with a PCI of 42.91 will cost about $278,000 to repave, according to figures shared during Tibbetts’ presentation, while a similar length on Woodhaven Drive with a PCI of 12.72 will run to more nearly $344,000

Although residents of the lower ranking roads may find it counter-intuitive, Tibbetts told selectmen they’d get the best bang for their buck over the long term by spending most of their road dollars on the better condition roads, rather than attacking them in order of worst first.

After running more than 50 different scenarios on the PAVER program, using variables such as inflation, pavement costs and interest rates, Tibbetts recommended spending as much as 70 percent of the town’s annual paving budget on roads that already rank D+ or better, and selectively targeting the rest.

Tibbetts said that to get all of Kennebunk’s roads up to a PCI of 100 would cost $5.8 million per year for five years, or $21 million if done all in one shot.

“Realistically, we couldn’t do that,” Cluff said.

“No. Realistically, to spend this amount of money in five years, we couldn’t do that either,” Tibbetts agreed.

According to Downs, a $21 million project would add $1.83 to the mil rate, or more than $457 to the tax bill on the median home. Even shooting for an average PCI of 70 could add as much as 93 cents to the mil rate, or $233 to the median residential tax bill, Downs said.

Instead, Tibbetts recommended following the model set by Saco, which has been using the PAVER program for several years and served as a mentor to Kennebunk officials in its use.

Saco, which has 125 miles of road, spent $4.9 million on paving projects from 2010 to 2014, boosting its average PCI from 65 to 71, Tibbetts said. That spending was augmented by $1.7 million in state grants and contract zone improvements.

Saco now has seen spending level off to $800,000 per year to maintain that number, along with targeted capital projects totaling up to $200,000 per year.

By following that model, Tibbetts said, Kennebunk might increase the average PCI of its roads by 7 to 10 points.

What goal selectmen will come back with on Dec. 22 remains to be seen, and the PAVER program, whatever it suggests based on that target number, still will not have the last word,” Tibbetts said.

“It’s really a tool to help us in our decision making process, it’s not the final determination. That’s an important point to understand,” he said.

Even so, selectmen said the data gleaned from it will be invaluable when the budget ax starts to swing.

“This is a giant leap forward, compared to where we were,” Karytko said. “Now, if we could just get the schools to control their spending, to keep the tax rate the same, we could get even more road work done.”

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