Our opinion: Three cheers for being the worst
A recently-announced grant from the state confirms what most of us already knew: Western Avenue is one of the worst roads in Vermont.
The persistent pothole problem along that stretch of Route 9 has been the bane of many a driver over the past several months. The town patches up the holes, and then literally the next day they're back again with a vengeance. And they have quite the appetite for tires and rims.
Everybody has been aware of the problem and what needs to be done, but as usual it was a question of where to get the money.
Western Avenue has a shared jurisdiction, between the town and the Vermont Agency of Transportation, from Main Street to Edward Heights. 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.
The state last resurfaced Western Avenue - designated as a Class 1 highway - in 2004. Such roads are on a 15-year paving cycle, so the earliest such a project would be scheduled for Western Avenue is 2019. We were told back in February that Vermont is short on cash for roads and bridges, and there is no shortage of roads that need attention.
"Competition for funds is heavy every year," said Ken Robie, a VTrans program manager.
That's why it was a pleasant surprise to hear that Brattleboro is going to receive a special grant to help re-pave a portion of Western Avenue. The money was included in the state's annual pavement treatment program and will allow the town to re-pave Western Avenue with an inch-and-a-half overlay from the Interstate 91 exit to Edward Heights, where Western Avenue becomes a state highway.
The town will re-pave the road and get reimbursed from the state for the work, which is estimated to cost between $100,000 and $150,000.
Brattleboro is one of only two municipalities in Vermont that will be able to use the state money on a town-owned roadway. St. Albans received a similar grant. All of the other grants are going to be used on state-owned highways. Other roads in Windham County that will receive the emergency paving include portions of Route 100 in Whitingham, Wilmington, Jamaica, Readsboro and Londonderry, Route 5 in Rockingham and Route 11 in Londonderry.
VTrans Assistant Director of Program Development Kevin Marshia said state officials and regional commissions looked at the roughest roads in the state and distributed the funding to the hardest hit communities.
"It was a long, hard winter and it took a toll on our roads. We heard a lot about that section and got a lot of calls about how bad it was down there," Marshia said of Western Avenue.
Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D - Brattleboro, is a member of the House Transportation Committee and she said it was extremely rare for a municipality to get state help for one of its crumbling roads. It helped that Route 9 and Western Avenue is an important east-west throughway. And the fact that Route 9 was not going to receive a major resurfacing for a few years added to the urgency of the situation.
"Basically Route 9 is one of the worst roads in the state right now. The Transportation Committee saw that and VTrans saw that," Burke said. "VTrans really listened and they came up with a solution. They realized how bad it was."
Brattleboro Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said the winter was tough on the road budget and the state money comes at a time when the town can use some good financial news.
"A grant like this is critically important for us," Moreland said. "Anyone who has spent time this winter traveling over Western Avenue knows the condition of that road. We are very appreciative of our local legislators for shedding light on this problem and we appreciate the financial support from the state."
Gov. Peter Shumlin announced the road funding last week as part of a statewide re-paving effort following the harsh winter. He said this year's pavement program is the largest in the state's history and will repair a record 145 miles of Vermont State Highways.
The state was able to extend the program this year with the help of an additional $9 million in federal funding that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was able to secure as part of a rebuilding grant for Tropical Storm Irene damage.
It's kind of nice when all of the different levels of government work together toward a common goal.
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