New England

Roads Half-Paved After Utility Work Rile Residents

The streets can be ugly, irritating and may cost communities millions

Ron Lavertue is disappointed by the way his street is paved. Very disappointed.

"It looks like junk. I feel like a stepchild. Everybody got something new, but I didn't get anything. Why? My taxes are paid on time. What did I do wrong?" he said.

That something new was a freshly paved road for some of his neighbors. But the 200-foot stretch in front of Levartue's Winthrop home was left as is — ugly and dotted with pock marks and potholes.

"A disaster is what I see," Levartue said.

It stems from paving done this summer along Quincy Avenue by a contractor for National Grid. Some of the street is fully paved, other sections look like a jigsaw of smooth surface and cracked pavement.

"You had the equipment here. You had the tar," Levartue said. "It doesn't make sense to bring in another outfit or the same outfit and spend more money."

By law, National Grid has to repair the road to "as good a condition" as it was in before they dug it up. But, and it's a big but, they only have to fix the part of the road they worked on — no matter what the other half looks like.

In an email, National Grid told us, " would be unfair for National Grid, and ultimately its customers in other communities, to pay to improve portions of a roadway that were not disturbed by the Company but were otherwise in disrepair."

Winthrop Town Manager Austin Faison understands the frustration.

"It's totally understandable. I wouldn't want that in front of my house," he said.

"I wish we could fix it. It's as simple as that," said Faison. "Unfortunately, in a town like Winthrop, we have millions and millions of dollars worth of road work to do. We have other priorities that are dictating our funding right now."

It's not just Quincy Avenue. We found several streets throughout Winthrop that are half-paved.

"It looks terrible," said John Clukas, who lives on Tileston Street. He says the differences in the pavement can wreak havoc on cars and his bad back.

"It doesn't make sense, it just doesn't," he said.

One town that is doing it differently is Franklin.

We showed Department of Public Works Director Brutus Cantoreggi video of half-paved Quincy Avenue in Winthrop and asked him what he thought.

"It's going to fail. It's already failing. That's on it's way down," he said.

Cantoreggi says taxpayers will foot a bigger bill if they have to fix a failure than if the town had fully paved in the first place.

"Any time you break the asphalt," he said, "You create a crack in it and allow moisture to get in there — and everybody knows New England. It's ice and it gets a pothole and starts to fail."

And it's not just a problem for Winthrop. As federal regulators push utilities to aggressively replace old gas pipeline throughout the state, more communities are trying to figure out how to keep roads in top form for the least amount of money.

Cantoreggi took us to a road project in Franklin near a new housing development.

"This is a gas line that was done a couple of years ago," he said, showing us marks in the pavement.

"This is the water line, that was done this Spring and then they're doing some sewer work down there," he said, pointing to where the road was opened up.

Why so much activity so close together? Because when anyone wants to dig up the street, Cantoreggi put out the call to everyone. Need to replace gas main? A sewer line? Lay telecom cable? Then agree to get it all done at the same time — or you could be waiting years to open up the street again under a dig moratorium.

Unless there's an emergency, the street gets a full pave once and because everyone's kicking in, Franklin saved a lot of time and money.

"On this job it's a couple hundred thousand dollars," said Cantoreggi. "That extra money I'm saving I can use elsewhere in town."

Some communities are saving even more.

A 2016 study by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council analyzed projects in Worcester. They found utilities cooperatively paid for about sixty percent of the city's paving costs. There were fewer disruptions for road work throughout the year, and streets lasted longer with fewer trench patches. The city was able to pave 23 miles of road for less than 4 million dollars — what city leaders called a dramatic savings.

Homeowners like Gail Clucas say they'd like to see that savings in Winthrop.

"It needs to be fixed the right way," she said. "Our town needs to be kept in good shape. If we don't take good care of things now it's only going to get worse."

Winthrop town manager Faison says he plans to bring in engineers to survey all local roads and prioritize the ones in the worst shape. There's no guarantee any of the half-paved roads would be prioritized.

"It may be something that's worth the effort to do it, but we've got to see the data first," said Faison. "It can't just be that we have a couple people that are upset about it and we go forward."

But he did commit to considering the cooperative paving plan in more projects.

"It is something to explore in the future — to try and do better," Faison said.

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