There was one-way traffic on parts of Western Avenue in Brattleboro, Monday afternoon, due to town workers filling in potholes along the road. (Kayla
There was one-way traffic on parts of Western Avenue in Brattleboro, Monday afternoon, due to town workers filling in potholes along the road. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO -- Western Avenue is pockmarked with deep, potentially damaging potholes that present, in the words of one observer, an "obstacle course" for drivers.

The question, though, is what anyone can do about it -- and when.

Brattleboro officials say they're doing their best to keep the road passable through periodic patchwork. But the road is not scheduled for major repaving by the Vermont Agency of Transportation for another five years, and there is not yet any commitment to change that schedule.

The town has an ally in state Rep. Mollie Burke, a Brattleboro Progressive Democrat who sits on the state House Transportation Committee.

"My job right now is to try to make (VTrans) aware of how bad the situation is and to try and get them to reconsider," Burke said. "It's an evolving situation."

Western Avenue, also labeled Route 9, takes daily punishment from heavy traffic.

"It has truck traffic on it pretty much 24 hours per day," said Patrick Moreland, Brattleboro's interim town manager. "It's one of the major thoroughfares in southern Vermont. And it's really bad right now."

That's because, Moreland said, this winter has featured a "very rapid cycling of freezing and thawing" that opens up large holes and also wreaking havoc on efforts to fill them.

When temperatures rise and rain falls, "all of the patchwork is thrust out of its pothole and gets broken up," Moreland said.

"We're actually out there patching as we speak," he said Monday morning. "Those patches will stay there until we get the next thaw and rain."

Moreland summed it up this way: "It's been really difficult, if not impossible, to stay out in front of it."

It's not just Brattleboro officials who are responsible for Western Avenue's well-being. Moreland said that, from Main Street to Edward Heights, there is "shared jurisdiction" between the town and VTrans.

While the road is town-owned, and while the town is responsible for routine maintenance, there is "some special statutory language that requires the AOT to do the resurfacing," said Richard Tetreault, VTrans chief engineer.

Moreland likened this winter to the winter of 2002, when "the potholes were just becoming absolutely ridiculous," he recalled. "That summer, the town put an overlay on (Western Avenue), which got us a couple of years until the state came along and rebuilt it."

Ken Robie, a VTrans program manager, confirmed that the state last resurfaced Western Avenue -- designated as a Class 1 highway -- in 2004. He added that such roads are on a 15-year paving cycle, meaning the earliest such a project would be scheduled for Western Avenue is 2019.

Vermont is short on cash for roads and bridges. And there is no shortage of roads that need attention, officials say.

"Competition for funds is heavy every year," Robie said.

Through her work in Montpelier, Burke is well aware of the state's transportation-funding constraints.

"It's hard, because VTrans has to look at the whole state and balance this," she said.

At the same time, however, she points out that Route 9 is "a major east-west road." So Burke is trying to go to bat for Brattleboro, asking VTrans to take a closer look at Western Avenue.

So far, she has received an official response recommending that the town spend $200,000 to address the problem -- a big investment that would consume most of Brattleboro's annual road-maintenance funding.

"It appears Western Avenue may require significant work on a three- to five-year cycle," Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said. "But the state of Vermont at this time is taking the position that the cycle for rebuilding this major east-west thoroughfare is much longer. This will result in the town of Brattleboro being called upon to spend money out of its local budget to maintain the road."

"The fiscal year 2015 budget presented for approval at the March Representative Town Meeting includes $250,000 for paving for the entire town. We do not have the money in the budget at this time to repave Western Avenue," Gartenstein added. "In light of the terrible condition of the road, I anticipate the Selectboard will need to consider trying to locate the money, including out of the surplus.

A pothole on Western Avenue in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
A pothole on Western Avenue in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
"

Burke isn't giving up on a different outcome, though.

"The state is aware of the situation," she said. "I'm urging people to write letters also (to VTrans) to see what solution we can find."

Tetreault said Burke is "fantastic" to work with and added that "she has been heard" on this issue. But he also noted that towns sometimes have to fill in the maintenance gaps between state-funded repaving projects.

"It's not uncommon," Tetreault said. "There are occasions where some of these Class 1 roads deteriorate ... before their time is up."

Tetreault could not say whether VTrans may reconsider the paving schedule for Western Avenue. But he also would not rule it out.

"Priorities are always being reassessed," he said.

While Western Avenue is an extreme example, officials point out that problems with potholes aren't limited to Brattleboro. Across the Connecticut River, officials in Hinsdale, N.H. also are dealing with problems caused by the harsh winter.

Hinsdale Town Administrator Jill Collins said Highway Superintendent Frank Podlenski and his crew do a fine job of maintaining town-owned roads, but roads owned by the state can be troublesome.

"The state roads have some potholes. Route 63, of course, is always bad. It has (frost) heaves in it," she said. "And Route 119 has some cracking."

Frost heaves are portions of ruptured pavement caused by water that freezes underneath the road.

Collins said there is "nothing too bad on our town roads." She said Podlenski and the highway department react well when someone reports problems in the roads.

Staff writer Domenic Poli contributed to this report.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.