PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city wants to call it quits on chip-sealing accepted streets.
A group of Ward 1 residents recently noticed that their roads were set to be worked on. Except, they weren't getting paving. They were getting chip-seal — a lesser priced way to repair roads but one that opponents claim leaves small rocks in their yards they have to clean up, makes it painful for their dogs to walk on, and dangerous for their children to ride bicycles and play because of the slipperiness.
"I have a big issue with the property being damaged by chip sealing," said Kittridge Road resident Judith Ladd, who was one of a number of residents in that neighborhood who filed a petition against the process.
The Ward 1 residents had the backing of not only the current Ward Councilor Helen Moon but also former Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon. Yon said the residents were "just asking for a very basic quality of life" request. She said they just want a decent street, one that gives value back to their homes and not a deterrent to being used.
"Please councilors do your job and represent your people," Yon said.
The neighborhood filled the Pittsfield High School library Tuesday in opposition and said they're willing to wait another year or so for the road to be milled and paved rather than have the cheaper fix. This was the second time the residents showed up in numbers to push the council away from the use.
When they first petitioned the city, some city councilors felt that chip sealing shouldn't be used at all. An amendment was made to create a policy against chip sealing across the entire city. But, when it went to a subcommittee, that was rejected.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli, who has repeatedly felt over the years that his ward was seeing less road repairs than elsewhere, says there are roads that would welcome the use.
"While there are some negatives, there are also some positives to chip sealing," he said.
On Tuesday, Moon made a compromise with Simonelli by making a motion to eliminate chip seal on all accepted streets. Many in Simonelli's ward are unaccepted streets which wouldn't be easy for a full mill and pave. But Simonelli was more supportive of a petition just for those six roads than he was of that.
"I felt if we left the petition the way Councilor Moon wanted it, I thought it had a chance of passing," Simonelli said of the original petition.
The Council ultimately accepted both Moon's amendment to the eliminate chip seal on paved streets and then approved the entire petition.
At the time of the vote, it appeared that it would have delayed roadwork for this year. Director of Public Services David Turocy said the road work bid had already been put out and opened. The city would have to rebid the work for the changes. If the contract had already been signed and awarded, the city would have had to pay the contractor for the work even if the company didn't do it.
On Wednesday, Turocy said the low bidder "agreed to drop chip seal from the proposed work for this upcoming construction season."
"If they are agreeable to it, we can eliminate it, with no penalty to the city, but they have to agree to it, and we cannot force the issue," he said. "We have reached out to the low bidder and they have agreed to drop chip seal from the proposed work for this upcoming construction season."
He said he does have the ability to change some of the contract and Turocy is now looking to mill and pave East New Lenox Road in place of any chip seal work. He said any difference in the costs from what would have been chipsealed this year and the addition of East New Lenox Road will be saved for next year.
To turn what would have been all of the chip-sealed roads into mill and paving instead, Turocy said would cost the city an estimated $2 million more. That would have required another petition from the mayor to increase the borrowing authority to do the work. But at this point, Turocy is not planning on releasing another bid.
Tyer said she'd much rather do mill and paving across the board as a policy than picking and choosing neighborhoods.
"I'm not really comfortable letting one neighborhood get an advantage over another," Tyer said.
For Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, she believes the use of chip sealing is creating an inequality. She said some neighborhoods are getting better service for their tax money when the roads are scheduled for mill and paving than those with chip seal.
Councilor at Large Peter White said he's only heard complaints about chip sealing and never praise. He said it is simply a service the residents don't want. He said it damages cars and limits what people can do on their road.
"I'd rather us put the best we can into our roads," White said.
Turocy said he does recognize that there are some drawbacks from it such as the pebbles in the roads and on lawns.
"I think that is an unavoidable consequence of that," he said.
So why does the city use it in the first place?
According to Turocy, with approximately 180 miles of roadway and roads typically lasting 18 years, he said he has to do 10 miles a year. But the city doesn't authorize enough spending to do mill and paving on all 10 miles in a given year so he uses chip seal, which lasts about seven years, to extend the life of a road.
"We have to do at least that to keep up with it. Right now, the only way to get there is chip sealing," Turocy said.
Turocy said he starts the year looking to do five miles of mill and pave and five miles of chip sealing. This year he said the administration felt the road conditions needed higher of a priority and he is using money that was set aside for a new salt shed to do more. This year he has 15.3 miles scheduled. Of that, 8.4 miles is chip seal and 6.9 miles is mill and pave.
If there isn't an increase in borrowing authorization, Turocy said he could do three miles of mill and pave with the same $1.2 million eyed to do 8.4 miles of chip sealing.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said he'd rather do it that way instead. He called on Turocy to "slow down" the street improvement plan and get the streets "done correctly." He said chip sealing is "a terrible process" that residents don't want. He'd rather invest in fewer roads per year but do them with the longer lasting mill and pave process.
"If we keep the chip seal we are going to be constantly bouncing back and forth between two different lifespans," Connell said.
Meanwhile, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said if he were in Moon's shoes and residents had petitioned him to halt chip sealing on their roads, he'd most certainly go to bat for them. But, he is also seeing that chip seal is a way to get more roads done at least to some degree in a given year.
"I think the process has been really slow as it is," Morandi said.
Mazzeo, however, has concerns about the cost of mill and pave on every road. Mazzeo listed a number of increased costs such as the building of a new high school and the upgrades to the wastewater treatment center and said at this rate the roads may be nice, but nobody will be able to afford to live on them.
"In a perfect world, I completely agree with you. But we don't live in a perfect world. We are really strapped for cash," Mazzeo said of the petitioners.
Nonetheless, eventually, the council decided that it would no longer support chip sealing on accepted roads. But, then again, that is an executive branch decision. It is ultimately up to the mayor and the director of public services in how the roads are actually serviced.
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