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City councilors quizzed Commissioner of Public Works Ricardo Morales on potholes and paving issues.

Pittsfield City Council Talks Potholes, Street Repair Prioritization

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A discussion on sidewalk and street maintenance got heated at Tuesday's City Council meeting and ended with an unofficial agreement for more open communication between the Department of Public Utilities and ward councilors on pothole filling.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio aired their grievances on Pittsfield's "poor" sidewalk and road conditions to Commissioner of Public Works Ricardo Morales for nearly an hour before Councilor at Large Earl Persip III made a well-received suggestion that communication is boosted between the public utility department and councilors in the future.
"What I'm asking for is a deeper sense of communication than you would normally give, and I know that's hard with seven ward councilors, and then the four at-large councilors will also give you things but I think in the long run, that helps everybody, including giving the residents the information that they need. So that's just a suggestion, I think, the more information you give us, and a better understanding of we have of how the roads are being done and chosen each year. I think it's just a positive thing for everybody," Persip said to Morales.
"You've always been open about listening to us and trying new things, so I just appreciate that and I'm sure others will, too."
Morales said he would add this to his effort.
Morandi originally petitioned for an update on pothole repairs, street sweeping, line painting, plow damage repairs, and paving bids for this construction season. He noted negative feedback from his constituents on the pavement conditions.
In response, Morales submitted to the council a plan and schedule for various activities conducted by the Department of Public Services and Utilities, which included Morandi's queries.
"I put this petition in because I was seeking a plan and more information ... there was a schedule provided back on April 5, but my petition also asked for a plan," Morandi said, displeased with the communication from Morales.
"And there's several items and questions, especially for the public's information out there. I think all of us, I know I have being a ward councilor, have gotten a lot of emails and calls from residents about a lot of the items on this petition and I don't see any specific plans."
Morales explained that pothole repairs start in the tail end of March through April and will continue through May. The city has one crew of two or three people who fill the potholes and the department is currently understaffed, having only half of the highway division positions filled.
This puts a strain on the amount of work that they can do at any given time, Morales said, as the jobs have been publicly posted but have no received applicants. He added that this has been a problem throughout the pandemic.
An additional strain has been the amount of rainfall occurring since pothole filling began.
"We use our work orders system that reports on the location, so that we can send out our crew to do work in an area in the most efficient way, in terms of doing work as close as possible, and then we move on to a different area to do the work that's in there," he elaborated.
Morales explained the system used to prioritize roads for repairs and monitoring systems that are in place for such purposes. This process attempts to pave the streets in an equitable way by treating all streets based on the pavement condition index.
"It's in a prioritized manner using multiple data points, one of them being the pavement condition index, the level of traffic through that road based on the functional classification," he said.
"The another point source is the review, the way we get the pavement condition is through a survey done last fall, and which determine the level of distress along the 450-lane miles in the city, and using that information, we prioritize the streets and devise this year's list, and throughout the summer we'll be devising the next five years, so the condition of the road has a lot to do with it."
Morandi and Connell also queried Morales about the city reportedly not using the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office work-release program to fill potholes. Morandi added that former Mayor Daniel Bianchi utilized this program.
"Why is it such a resistance, apparently, to reaching out to the sheriff's department for that, not free labor, but basically free labor, is very inexpensive to help us get caught up because we are such short-staffed and you already admitted that we already have just one crew out doing these potholes," Connell said. "Is this your decision? Or the administration?"
This struck a nerve with Mayor Linda Tyer, who then clarified that her administration is, in fact, willing to partner with the sheriff's department for work in the city. She reported that she has recently spoken with Sheriff Thomas Bowler to have the community service crew work with the Highway Department to remove a large amount of litter from the city.
"I want to be really clear to all of you on the City Council and to the members of this community that is not true," Tyer added in regard to Connell's assertion.
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon believes the city's way of prioritizing streets that need repairing may not be equitable because it's a systematic method to determine the need. She cited a discrepancy in miles of repaired roads between the wards.
Moon also made a suggestion to Morales on how to calm residents' concerns on problem pavement areas and deter fears of ward favoritism.
"I will say one of the things that are helpful ... is put out a list of the roads that are scheduled to be paved, and my constituents can see that it's coming forward," she said. "Even if you don't include the mileage ... but this is how much resources have been allocated to the various areas, so even if it's not mileage, then we can see that no one ward is being preferentially treated versus another ward."
This construction year, there will be a little over nine miles of paving repairs. Ward 3 and Ward 4 will be getting slightly higher mileage of repairs "quickly" followed by Wards 7, 5, and 2. Wards 1 and 6 will be getting the least amount of repairs based on need.
Morales estimated that the average share of repairs for all of the wards is 14 percent and reported that he believes none of the wards are getting less than 10 percent.
"The distribution goes between 20 and 10 [percent]," he said. "That's roughly the order."

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Big Y Hiring Spree

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — On Tuesday June 29, Big Y will hold their first ever company wide "monstrous hiring" event at over 75 locations across Massachusetts and Connecticut. 
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