"It's an evolving situation."
Well, that's one way to put it.
It's also how Vt. Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, described recent discussions between herself, Brattleboro officials and officials at VTrans, regarding the severe state of Western Avenue -- AKA Route 9 -- which is riddled with potholes.
It's nothing new and it certainly isn't unique to Windham County. Just take a look at Boston, Hartford, New York, Indianapolis ... well, you get the point.
Blame Old Man Winter. Or Mother Nature.
"This winter's lower-than-average temperatures, coupled with higher-than-average snowfall," according to a Boston Globe report, "have created the perfect climate to spawn a barrage of teeth-clattering, bone-jarring, axle-cracking potholes across the region. And public works agencies are struggling to keep up."
"It's been really difficult, if not impossible, to stay out in front of it," Brattleboro's Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland told the Reformer on Monday afternoon, as DPW crews were out on Western Ave. filling as many of the potholes as they could.
And much like the water pooling in these troublesome black holes, the problem runs much deeper than manpower, time and weather. There's a steep cost involved in any fix that's more than a simple Band-Aid.
Being at the Statehouse, Burke is well-aware of Vermont's transportation-funding constraints. But after asking VTrans to take a closer look at this major east-west thoroughfare, the official response was a recommendation for Brattleboro to invest in a paving project. The only problem is that such a project would carry at least a $200,000 price tag, a steep cost when you consider that, for the fiscal year 2015, officials approved a $250,000 budget for paving ... for the entire town!
"The potholes are emblematic of a deeper chasm," according to a recent report from Bloomberg. "The gap between the cost of improvements to U.S. transportation infrastructure and available revenue from both state and federal sources was as much as $147 billion, according to a 2009 National Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission report."
And, according to Washington nonprofit research group TRIP, "substandard conditions" on rural U.S. roads (of which we're sure Western Ave. would be considered), cost the average driver using them $377 a year (which works out to be about $80 billion nationwide).
"That money comes out of a finite budget, and so when you have a harsher climate for your infrastructure and even less money to spend on repairs, that's asking for trouble," Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at TRIP, told Bloomberg.
So what are states to do? Well, according to the Bloomberg report:
-- The Michigan Legislature is considering allocating an additional $100 million to the transportation department (to cover plowing, salting and pothole repair).
-- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is adding $7.3 million to the city's $74 billion budget (specifically for street repairs).
-- And Indianapolis has already exceeded it's winter maintenance budget by $5 million.
Which brings us back to Brattleboro's $200,000 problem.
"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," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein told the Reformer on Monday.
But don't forget, in addition to the usual day-to-day and general cost of living increases any town faces, Brattleboro residents and officials must also consider other large costs associated with the recent wastewater treatment plant project and the forthcoming police/fire department project.
Here's just a handful of comments the newsroom has received from the community on the state of Western Avenue:
-- "It's like an obstacle course out there."
-- "Thought we were going to have to get the 'horse and buggy' out to maneuver around the potholes."
-- "Some of these 'potholes' have reached the level of craters. They need to be fixed, ASAP, before someone gets really hurt."
-- "Not only dangerous for drivers but also for pedestrians ...."
-- "It's getting to a point where now I'm worried I may lose a tire ...."
-- "Maybe you can get the town to post a sign with the scoring system for their little slalom course."
You get the idea.
Band-Aids are one thing, and much-needed in this case. But you don't keep putting Band-Aids on a gaping wound -- you see an expert and get the problem fixed.
The problem on Western Avenue is two-fold.
First, a way must be found to get a fresh pave done as soon as possible. Then, perhaps it's time to start re-examining why this two-lane road turned into a main connector between the eastern and western corners of the state. With hundreds of trucks traveling this little two-lane blacktop through the heart of West Brattleboro, is it any surprise it's so quickly torn apart?