This is the first part of two. Part 2 will run on Monday 4/30.

There are few issues that generate more complaints, comments and anger as the condition of the roads. And, this is certainly not limited to Auburn. Quite frankly, roads are the most visible asset of a community, and residents expect them to be perfect – at least the one on which they live.

From A Street to Zabelle Avenue, there are over 96 miles of town roads and nearly 10 miles of private roads in Auburn, and all get some attention from the Department of Public Works. The work is ultimately supervised by DPW Director William A. Coyle, Sr., P.E. The P.E. stands for ‘professional engineer’, and Coyle has brought a lot of professionalism and innovation to the department. After a recent interview, Coyle should be considered a ‘Roads’ Scholar.

Before the chorus of “When’s my road gonna’ get fixed?” begins, it’s important to understand the facts.

Every year, Coyle and civil engineer, Joanna Paquin, P.E., drive and evaluate every road in town and assign a rating of 1-5 with 1 being poor condition and 5 being a nearly new road. When first done about nine years ago, 50% of Auburn’s roads were rated ‘poor’. Since an aggressive repair program was initiated in FY2010, the 50% ‘poor’ has changed to 50% ‘good’, and now only 20% remain ‘poor’ while 30% are rated ‘fair’.

After this year’s paving season, all of the original ‘poor’ roads will have been replaced. Over 9 years, however, it must be realized that some of the original ‘fair’ roads are now ‘poor’, as time takes its toll on asphalt.

The Process….

When a road is evaluated, it is assigned one of four work efforts: Do Nothing; Crack Seal; Mill and Overlay; and Pulverize and Replace. The latter brings the roadway down to dirt and is the perfect time to replace aging pipes, catch basins and manhole covers. Consequently, the gas company, water department and sewer department are notified about 6 months in advance so each can evaluate their assets and make their own improvements. A reconstructed road can last for 20 years.

Mill and Overlay uses a pavement grinder to remove the top layer of asphalt so it can be replaced. This process generally adds 10-12 years to the life of a road, but the lack of a complete depth replacement has a few drawbacks. The most significant is that cracks in the base asphalt layer will eventually carry through to the top coat. Because of this, the DPW now crack seals the tops of overlay roads when cracks appear. A good example of a mill and overlay is Rockland Road. Boyce St., on the other hand, was completely rebuilt.

Crack sealing is also used on replaced roads should cracks appear, and they do with all the frost heaves in New England. The objective is to prevent water from getting under good pavement where it will go through freeze/thaw cycles that will eventually lift the top layer and create a pot hole after a snow plow shears it off.

The DPW tried using a contractor for this job years ago, but they ended up buying their own equipment for about $30,000 and added this task to the many others performed. Now, roads that are 2-years old get crack sealed.

The Do Nothing approach is likely the most frustrating for residents since it appears the town doesn’t care. The fact is that a ‘poor’ road that will be replaced in the next cycle or two deserves little attention aside from filling potholes. No matter what the DPW does in the short term, it won’t last.

Paying the price….

Roadwork is anything but inexpensive. In this year’s bid, Mill and Overlay is costing between $30-40 per foot on an average 24-26 foot wide road while Pulverize and Replace runs about $80 per foot.

In FY18, which ends on June 30th, Auburn will spend $1,513,943 on roadway improvements. The Commonwealth, through Chapter 90 funding, will contribute $608,943 with the balance coming from Auburn taxpayers. Chapter 90 funding has unfortunately been in the $200 million range for about 10 years, and all towns could use more.

In the last 9 years, the town has redone 32 miles of roads at a cost approaching $13 million. In the 12 years before the DPW was created, 31 miles of roads were redone, largely mill and overlay.

Chief Financial Officer Ed Kazanovicz told Auburn Mass Daily, “There was a general fund contribution voted annually years ago called Town Road Improvement, appropriated in the five-year capital plan. The annual appropriation was $100k to $150k, used for various road improvements as well as equipment for road construction. Fast forward to today, the town’s local contribution, not including Chapter 90, is upwards of $1 million.”

Coyle added, “Without the town contribution, there would be little sidewalk or drainage work done.” Fewer miles of road reconstruction would occur as well.

Check back on Monday for part 2.