Our Opinion: Brattleboro, you are not alone


If you are one of those people who feels your municipal officials aren't doing enough to fill in potholes and fix roads left crumbling by the most recent winter, join the club.

According to The Atlantic, cities and towns across the country are in "a prolonged pothole purgatory."

In Cleveland, road crews are going through 100 tons of asphalt a day; in Indianapolis, the city has received 12,000 pothole complaints and in Chicago, 47,200; and New York City road crews have filled 255,000 potholes in its five boroughs.

"Mother Nature has decided to leave nothing but pothole ruin on our streets throughout the city of Chicago," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, during a speech. "It also shows you the wear and tear and how old our streets are."

On the night of March 30, noted Staten Island Live, at least 25 cars lined the shoulder of the State Island Expressway, their tires blown out by a massive pothole in the center lane. It's not just an inconvenience, either. Potholes and bad roads cost the country money that could be better spent elsewhere. In New York state alone, reported TRIP, a nonprofit focused on transportation safety issues, bad roads and bridges are costing drivers $20.3 billion every year. In January alone, AAA New York reported it received 13,000 flat tire calls, most from hitting potholes.

"All over we are seeing a bumper crop of potholes," Carolyn Kelly told The Atlantic. Kelly is the associate director of research and communications for TRIP. "The combination of an extremely harsh winter and a lack of funding that many states and municipalities have to handle has made it especially hard."

According to TRIP, two-thirds of the major roads in some cites are in poor condition and need desperate help.

In case you didn't know, potholes are caused when water seeps through cracks or from the sides of a road. Over time, the water can cause the material under the pavement to erode, causing the pavement to sink. In the winter, the water under the pavement freezes and then thaws, causing the pavement to crack. Water often fills potholes, freezing and causing more cracking of pavement. Once a pothole has formed, traffic pounds the edges, crumbling pavement and making the potholes even bigger.

Water that seeps under the pavement and then freezes also causes frost heaves, which causes pavement to crumble under traffic and rattles undercarriages and loosens mufflers.

While road crews attempt to fill in potholes and seal cracks during the winter, true repairs can't be made until the freeze-and-thaw cycle is done for the year.

Administrators in cities such as Brattleboro and Sheboygan, Wisc., are compiling lists of roads that need to be fixed once the weather gets better, but all are facing a harsh a reality.

"There are plenty of streets you can say are in dire need of replacement," Sheboygan Public Works Director Dave Biebel told the Sheboygan Press. "The problem is ... it far exceeds the budget to fund that type of work."

In St. Cloud, Minn., fed-up voters recently approved $18 million in bonds for four years worth or road repairs.

Anne Finn, of the League of Minnesota Cities, told the St. Cloud Times that every $1 invested in road maintenance saves $7 in repairs.

"Much of the condition of our roads is a result of neglect," she said. "What we hear from city engineers is that they need the tools and resources to get the repairs done."

But not every town, city or state is positioned or has the wherewithal to seek out multi-million dollar bonds to repair their roads and bridges. Many of them are asking the federal government to help.

Pres. Barack Obama has proposed a four-year, $302 billion project to fix the nation's highways and bridges. But we all know what kind of opposition the president faces in the Republican controlled House of Representatives. And if the Senate falls into the GOP's hands in November, you can expect the obstructionism will only increase.

In Brattleboro, many residents are calling for the town to reconsider its $14 million bond for upgrades to its police and fire facilities. Many people would rather see that bond used to fix the roads. While the first bond has been taken out on the project, a second application is due on May 15. The Selectboard could make the decision before then to scale back the police and fire projects and hold off on a second bond application until it has fully reevaluated the town's infrastructure needs.

Right now, Western Avenue, which has been the hardest hit paved road in Brattleboro, is not due for the kind of repairs that will prevent potholes from forming in the winter for several years. As a state road maintained by the city, Vermont is responsible for its overhaul but, much to their chagrin, Brattleboro's administrators and road crews are on the receiving end of the blame from exasperated drivers.

And with the forecast calling for daytime temperatures in the 50s with nighttime temperatures at or below freezing, you can expect more water to pool in the potholes, causing more damage over the next few days.

While new technologies and new materials promise for longer-lasting roads, none of that is cheap. The real solution is to expand mass transit, create walkable cities and promote bicycle commuting. Is any of that attainable, however? Probably not in the next 20 or 30 years.

Robert Laura, writing for Forbes, noted potholes and poor road and bridge conditions, while a bane for drivers, could result in a wise investment for those looking to buy stocks in tire companies, asphalt manufacturers and rock and aggregate producing companies.

"Potholes and orange barrels are an inevitable part of the coming season so as the saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them ... with some investment options that may just turn potholes into profits," wrote Laura.


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