HARWICH — Selectmen threw their support behind a $350,000 Lower County Road improvement project Monday night. Town Engineer Griffin Ryder projected the work should provide five to seven years of additional life for the road surface.
The town has been wrestling with how to address poor road surface conditions along Lower County Road since voters in the annual town meeting turned down a request for $4.5 million to reconstruct 2.25 miles of the road. Voters also turned down a customary $700,000 annual road maintenance fund debt exclusion ballot question by 32 votes in the annual election.
In a meeting with selectmen in June, DPW Director Lincoln Hooper said this was the first time in 16 years that no local funding was provided for the annual road maintenance plan.
The town has a five year no-road surface digging policy after resurfacing, so the water department over the past year made major upgrades to the water system along Lower County Road, in anticipation of the resurfacing project. The patch work for the water department improvements were not done to maximum standards because of the planned reconstruction project.
“That’s on me, I let them off the hook,” Hooper said. “I should have said ride-quality repairs. I tried to put it in front of our work, then put a five-year moratorium on digging in the road.”
“Part of what I see is you don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Selectman Donald Howell said of making decisions before funding votes. The water department agreed to contribute $38,750 remaining in its Lower County Road project funding to assist with the road improvements.
Last month the condition of the road was referred to as being “in shambles.” But at that time selectmen did not reach a decision on how to move forward. Ryder told selectmen Monday night town staff shaped a recommendation to selectmen on how to move forward, looking at what got voted down and what can be done to extend the life of the road.
He said $350,000 that can extend the life of the road for five to seven years, including patching, improvements to three drain locations at Allen Harbor, Wequasset and Brooks roads; crack sealing to take place this fall; and a chipseal surface treatment in the spring.
After the town meeting and election defeats, the DPW altered its maintenance plan for FY2020 and canceled a couple of scheduled projects. With existing funds and FY20 Chapter 90 state highway funds, there is about $1.3 million for road projects.
The road will be “tightened” for winter so there is no water intrusion, which can create frost heaves, which can cause plows to rip up the road surface, said Ryder. With no asphalt plants open in the winter, the roads could not be repaired if that happens, he said.
The improvements would give selectmen time to go back to town meeting or consider applying for Transportation Improvement Program funding for reconstructing the roadway. But concerns were raised about pursuing TIP funding, given the 43-foot right-of-way requirements from Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Hooper pointed out the right of way on Lower County Road is 40 feet. Following state guidelines would require an easements, and “people are awfully sensitive to giving up their property.”
Selectman Michael MacAskill called into question a statement in the staff recommendation that said chipseal “is typically not utilized on main roadways due to the resulting reduced ride quality.” He pointed to a project along Route 39 in Brewster where chipseal was used and said the surface is quite satisfactory.
Hooper pointed out Brewster used a 20 percent chipseal mix whereas Harwich uses 10 percent and but does not apply it to major roadways. Hooper also said the Brewster road was in better shape than Lower County Road. He said a 20 percent mix provides better wear surface.
MacAskill suggested the 20 percent chipseal be used; Hooper said said will be the case since Lower Country Road is a main road.
Selectman Ed McManus said the project would “stabilize and minimize” road conditions, but he added it does nothing for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Ryder said the proposal has no ADA improvements. Town Administrator Christopher Clark said the minimal work being performed will not require ADA compliance.
“Basically, we’re postponing work for seven years,” Board of Selectman Chairman Larry Ballantine said. “Hopefully inflation won’t bury us.”
MacAskill also said something could change and they may be able to address the road needs in less than seven years.
Selectmen agreed by consensus to support the $350,000 expenditure.
“When we chipseal next year, there will be a perception we are doing work the voters said no to,” Hooper cautioned selectmen. He said board members could be getting calls about it.