Paving Costs Rising
(from Maine Townsman, April 2000)
by Steve Cartwright, Selectman, Waldoboro

Fixing potholes and paving roads has traditionally taken a big bite from the municipal budget pie. With soaring petroleum prices, paving could be costlier still.

How much it hurts could depend on where you are and how many miles of road your municipality maintains. The mid-Maine town of Wayne has 26 miles of road to maintain; Madawaska, in northern Aroostook County, has 140 miles to keep in good repair.

Jay Tuthill, spokesman for the paving firm Pike Industries in Lewiston, said Maine towns and cities should prepare for "sticker shock" in the form of a 7-10 per cent increase in costs. "They either need a bigger budget, or theyíve got to scale back their projects. Itís got to be one or the other," he said.

"We are a big user of electricity, diesel and asphalt, and all of those have gone up," said Tuttle. Will rising costs be passed along to customers? Yes, he said, explaining that the per ton price of asphalt is already $3 higher.

"The indications weíre getting so far are that prices will go up," said Carol McKenzie, of the nonprofit Greater Portland Council of Governments. She seeks paving bids on behalf of 13 southern Maine communities, believing that through cooperative purchase, the council can fetch a more competitive price. "Paving is a very expensive commodity. Towns are paying for it by the ton. Last year we were paying anywhere from $23 or $24 for a low, up to around $30 for a high. Itís a big item."

She said this yearís bids have not been received yet, but itís safe to say that the price will be higher for most paving projects, with some involving thousands of tons of asphalt.

In Madawaska, the board of selectmen authorized an additional $25,000 for paving, on top of the $175,000 budget for hot top. "Weíve been catching up in the past two years. We definitely donít want to fall behind," Town Manager Arthur Faucher said. Along with regular maintenance, Madawaska will pave 4,000 feet of road at Long Lake, previously a gravel road. Ninety percent of road work is repair.

Faucher said a new elementary school, and a new $3.2 million sewer plant, have spurred developers to build at least 30 new houses in this 72-square mile town, with a population holding steady at 4,800. The town will pay for paving of new subdivision roads if gravel specifications are met. Madawaska uses a town crew to prepare local roads for paving, then hires an outside contractor to lay the asphalt.

Madawaska Public Works Clerk Leo Sirois said new, larger-capacity vehicles have saved the town money on road repair. "Our costs have gone down in the last two years. It used to take us three trucks and three drivers, now we use two trucks and two drivers."

In Wayne, a bedroom community of 1,000 residents, Town Manager Peter Nielsen is preparing the budget for June town meeting. "Iím hopeful that we wonít get stuck too bad. Our roads are generally in good shape. Theyíve have good stewardship over the years." Wayne spends about $70,000 per year on road work.

One cost-saving aspect of todayís paving operations is recycling. Several years ago, old pavement was removed and often used as fill. Today, most old pavement gets reclaimed, or recycled. Rather than dump it as land fill, companies such as Pike Industries grind it up for sale as gravel. A bonus is that such gravel tends to "set," making it firm instead of loose. Besides gravel, the DEP allows up to 20 per cent recycled content in new pavement. This is both an economic and environmental benefit, according to Pikeís Jay Tuthill.

Madawaska residents are happy to see their roads paved, but in Wayne, Lord Road residents told town officials they prefer gravel, preserving a rural quality and slowing traffic. "The majority (on that road) donít want it to change," Nielsen acknowledged. About five miles of Wayne roads remain unpaved, about the same as Madawaska. Because Madawaska has five times the total municipal road miles to maintain as does Wayne, the percentage of unpaved roads to paved roads in Madawaska is much less.

The dirt road debate has also cropped up in Kittery, Maineís southernmost community with 9,400 residents. "Itís a big, big issue, to retain the rural character of the town," said Town Manager Phil McCarthy. Kittery is drafting a new comprehensive plan and whether or not to pave rural roads is "already a football," he said, adding that his challenge is to find a balance between economic development and protecting the environment.

The re-used paving material is known in the business as RAP, for recycled asphalt product. When old pavement is turned into gravel, itís called brown pack.

"There are those that want to stop growth. I happen not to be one of them. I believe we need to control growth," he said, pointing to two proposed malls for Kittery, each 250,000 square feet. Some residents oppose the projects, and their expected impact on traffic, and they argue the proposed comprehensive plan isnít strong enough.

Roads "are a big part of our budget...weíve been going to bid and weíve been pretty successful," McCarthy said.

Kittery Public Works Director Rick Rossiter, a veteran of nearly 25 years on the job, said he is responsible for 62 miles of roads, and new subdivision roads will only be accepted if already paved by developers. He estimates the town spends about $115,000 per year on road repaving.

He tries to keep all roads in good repair, but heavy trucks take their toll on Kittery highways, especially on Routes 1 and 103, carrying vehicles up to 80,000 pounds. "These roads were never built for that. Two hundred or 250 years ago they were built for horse and buggy, and (later) they got paved." The sheer volume of traffic through Kittery keeps growing, and one of his projects is to widen Route 1 near Wilson Street, adding a turning lane and moving sidewalks back.

To Rossiter, there is no doubt which way costs are headed. Six years ago, the state Department of Transportation budgeted $660,000 for improvements to Cook Street. The work wasnít done, and now the job is costing $1.2 million.