Board Not Ready to Sell Road Plan

The Marion Select Board held a special, one-agenda item, public meeting on July 3 in which its three members heard from Jared Duval and Fran Conroy of TEC, a company the town hired to analyze its 28 miles of public roadway and propose a maintenance plan.

            Most notably, Select Board member Randy Parker struggled with TEC’s proposal prioritizing widespread preventative maintenance in Year 1 of its three-year plan over desperately needed repairs to eroded ways such as Delano Road.

            The theory presented by TEC basically asserts that a “worst-first” mentality is more costly in the long run because, while it would invest in roads badly needing intervention, it would thereby allow the vast majority of better roads to slip into more-desperate categories.

            Parker argued that if Marion has a stretch of road that gets a 70 Pavement Condition Index (PCI) score, for instance, “that didn’t get used enough, that would be one that we could put off and we could actually look at one that is worse and traveled a lot more.”

            Parker contends that Converse Road and Point Road are heavily traveled and therefore needier for repairs and maintenance. Motivated by budgeting, Parker hopes roads not heavily traveled can be identified and maintenance projects put off longer than those more urgently needed on busier roads. He said the program as presented will be hard to sell to taxpayers.

            Select Board Chairman Norm Hills articulated concerns about the limitations of Chapter 90 (state-reimbursement) funding and thinks the town would be better served by investing more money so it can be more aggressive with the plan and not fall further behind the maintenance needs of town roads once the three-year program has been completed.

            Chapter 90 funding for FY24 in Marion was $170,000, barely half the $325,000 annually required to maintain Marion’s 71.80 PCI rating. The $525,000 it takes to address a five-point network PCI increase (making improvements) would cost nearly three times the Chapter 90 budget.

            If the town approves TEC’s recommended three-year budget approach, an initial $350,000 would be spent, followed by two consecutive fiscal-year investments of $170,000, totaling $690,000. This approach would presumably position the town to proactively treat roads otherwise in danger of dropping into a “lower treatment band.”

            As proposed, no major rehabilitation would be included in Year 1 of TEC’s proposal, leaving a total of 11.2 miles to be addressed at an estimated cost of $680,000. Duval said TEC estimates that to perform the Major Rehabilitation on the 1.25 miles (or 5%) where it is needed would cost an estimated $1,000,000, far exceeding the available budget.

            Hills also asked about a five-year plan; Duval said choosing between a three- or five-year trajectory is discretionary, but he prefers three years.

            “Once you get beyond three years, thing get a little less concrete,” said Duval, referencing issues that arise with infrastructure. “Your data’s going to be most accurate if you are going boots on the ground, getting back out there on a fairly short timeframe.”

            Initially developed by another company, Marion put its Pavement Management Program (PMP) in place in 2018. In November 2023, TEC was contracted to reinspect, report on and plan regarding Marion’s roadways and culverts. In February, TEC developed a draft report, a database and a three-year plan considered viable through May.

            Based on feedback from Marion’s Department of Public Works, TEC finalized its analysis and summary reporting and pavement database and three-year plan through May 2024. Duval said the goal of the maintenance plan is to, “at least try to maintain your average network conditions or improve them if possible.”

            He displayed a Pavement Condition Index graph in which segments of roadway are assigned a numerical rating from 0 to 100 to grade those segments’ health. For surfaces lacking recommended maintenance, Duval said once deterioration begins it tends to move quickly. Perennial maintenance, he said, delays costly major repairs.

            TEC used a 10-foot square to sample roads and estimate maintenance work needed to establish a field-data collection and thereby assign a Pavement Condition Index (PCI). The roadway inventory consists of both the town’s inventory and that of the state Department of Transportation. Five basic PCI scoring ranges match general assessments, such as “Excellent, Good, Fair, Deficient and Poor,” each classified according to the most value-based maintenance plan.

            Marion’s 71.80 PCI represents a “fair condition” roadway network, according to Duval, who told the board that major repairs are required on 1.25 miles or 5% of Marion’s network. The “estimated backlog” – what it would cost Marion in the moment to handle all recommendations – is $5,900,000.

            Parker asked if traffic flow is considered in TEC’s recommendations. Duval answered in the affirmative.

            In summarizing the Cost Benefit Value, Duval used a weighted factor on a 1-to-5 scale, identifying Main and Spring streets as Arterial (5), Front Street as a Collector (4), Hurricane and School Zones (3), Local roads (2) and Dead Ends/Cul-de-sacs (1).

            TEC’s three-year plan would address 40% of Marion’s roadways. Routine maintenance would apply to 7.23 miles at an estimated cost of $139,000. Preventative maintenance would apply to 3.38 miles at an estimated cost of $228,000. Minor Rehabilitation would apply to 0.59 miles at an estimated cost of $313,000. Any curb work or sidewalks would result in additional costs.

            DPW Director Becky Tilden noted that the department has an ongoing evaluation on all Marion sidewalks.

            Select Board member Toby Burr asked how the frequency of field-inspection work would affect the cost; two experienced inspectors would cost from $10,000 to $15,000, according to Duval.

            Duval said traffic volume puts Converse Road on the top-15 list for crack-seal treatment. More work is needed, but Duval recommended waiting until a subsequent year of the plan so as not to gobble up the Year 1 budget.

            Parker sought Conroy’s expertise on Delano Road. Tilden explained that a water issue is delaying Delano’s inclusion as a priority. Duval said sections of Point Road and Front Street were also considered but omitted from Year 1 due to scheduled utility work. Parker countered that significant sections of Delano Road should be included now and not delayed until the entire road can be addressed at once.

            TEC recommends against using up the entire budget on major rehabilitation on Delano Road because of the resultant vulnerability of many other roads it says could slip into lower strata and become more costly in the long run.

            Town Administrator Geoff Gorman said TEC’s plan is based on the existing budget, but Parker argued the idea “is to get the best bang for our dollars…” He compared spreading Chapter 90 money on many minor rehabilitation projects as Christmas wrapping “just to say, ‘we’re doing something.’”

            Duval acknowledged Parker’s concerns but argued for the value of crack-sealing because it prevents water infiltration. He disagreed with Parker’s priority toward the town’s worst roads, saying a neglected Converse Road could cost $1,000,000 per mile.

            “I know it’s not a popular opinion, but some of the roads that are already down in that major-rehab (predicament). They’re not going to get much worse,” said Duval.

            It was suggested that Delano Road belongs in a capital-request category requiring a Town Meeting approval of funding.

            “Well, that’s what we should be doing,” said Parker.

            Acknowledging the Chapter 90 budget, Hills suggested allocating $170,000 annually over a four-year period, an idea Tilden said can be arranged. “The biggest problem we’ve got … we don’t have enough money to do any of this,” said Hills.

            Duval said some towns approve a Chapter 90 match in Town Meeting, allowing them to do more projects.

            The meeting batted around funding scenarios, and Conroy pointed out that Chapter 90 funding for road maintenance emanates from the gasoline tax and not from property-tax dollars.

            DPW engineer Meghan Davis said that crack-seal is a treatment that the town would necessarily contract and not perform internally.

            Conroy also said asphalt is made with thinner oil than it was, say, 30 years ago, and new processes add to the difference to the point that polymers are needed to restore some of the properties missing. “Fogseal” is a way to protect today’s weaker asphalt mixes in newer roads.

            In summary, Duval presented Plan Year 1 as addressing 25% of the network and asserting that the recommended maintenance will increase the town’s PCI by .67 (from 71.80 to 72.47). He said Years 2 and 3 dip back down because the project at that juncture relies totally on state funding.

            Burr asked about the timeline, namely how soon Marion could engage TEC’s plan. He was told there are contracts in place and some projects could be underway within two weeks of the meeting. He was told work has already been done under the contract in some cases.

            Hills and Parker agreed that the town needs a line item to get ahead of the process. Tilden said a line item exists but is limited to items such as patching pot holes.

            Parker reiterated the need to address the priority roads in town. Conroy laid out two options: one a yearly line item increase for the DPW to perform road reconstruction, the other to get an estimate for a particular project that would go to Town Meeting and then the ballot box as a yes-or-no vote.

            Tilden asked for action from the board, but the members opted to mull it over and wait to announce its decision at their July 16 meeting.

            The next meeting of the Marion Select Board is scheduled for Tuesday, July 16, at 6:00 pm at the Marion Police Station on Route 6.

Marion Select Board

By Mick Colageo

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