Rough Roads: Moving beyond patching in Brattleboro

04/02/08 7:55AM By Susan Keese
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(Host Intro) A road can be patched and resurfaced only so long before real problems start to set in.

The situation in Brattleboro has gotten so dire, the town Selectboard and public works director traveled to Montpelier to plead for attention.

Today in our series on road conditions, VPR's Susan Keese takes us on a bumpy ride in the state's southeast corner.

(Keese) Brattleboro Public Works director Steve Barrett says he knows every town in Vermont has serious road problems this year. But Brattleboro's are so bad you can see the original cobblestones beneath the broken down surface on Main Street, also known as Vermont Route 5.

The town handles the short term maintenance where the roads go through town, but looks to the state for more radical repairs.

Barrett steers the town pickup clear of a bumpy swathe of ancient history.

(Barrett) "These roads were built for horse and carriage, not 80 or 100,000 pound vehicles."

(Keese) Unfortunately for Brattleboro and other towns on the Route 5 corridor, Interstate 91 wasn't built for hundred-thousand pound trucks either.

(Barrett) "Some of these really heavy trucks are not allowed on the Interstate, only allowed on these secondary highways, in our case, Route 5, Route 30, because it has a huge impact on the bridges on the Interstate and also the safety. Some of these heavy vehicles can't keep up the proper speed and that becomes a hazard."

(Keese) Barrett says those overweight trucks contribute toward the break down of the roads.

(Barrett) "If you look over you can actually see the grooves where the tire tracks are. There's so much weight there that they groove out the road."

(Keese) The grooves become channels where water runs. And Barrett says they can also cause vehicles to hydroplane. But mostly the water freezes and thaws, breaking down the road surface.

(Barrett) "This road's pretty rough right here. It would actually need to be ground off and then rebuilt. It's gone beyond just what we call an overlay, just to go over it with a coat."

(Keese) Brattleboro has a number of roads that have gone beyond mere resurfacing and many more do need a good overlay.

Jesse Corum won election this march to the Brattleboro Selectboard. He says he didn't run on a road repair platform, but he certainly got an ear full during his campaign.

(Corum) "I kept hearing ‘What are you going to do about the roads, Jesse. And that's what I heard about and not anything else .So it became pretty important to try to do something about that."

(Keese) The message took on a certain new immediacy on Town Meeting Day. He and his wife were heading home for a bite to eat before the vote count that evening.

(Corum) "On the way down we hit a huge pot hole and lost the right front tire."

(Keese) The urgency hit home again a few weeks later at Brattleboro's representative town meeting. The board had budgeted $290,000 for road paving. The representatives voted in an extra $200,000 from the town's undesignated reserve fund.

Later Corum talked with Senate president Peter Shumlin, whose district includes Brattleboro.

(Corum) "He indicated that he would appreciate it if we would come up and testify before the Senate Transportation Committee. So I organized that and made sure that happened."

(Keese) The delegation from Brattleboro also spent some time with Governor Jim Douglas. The very next day the Governor announced his plan to free up an extra $3 million for road paving.

Corum says he won't take credit for that, though he thinks the group made an impression. And he says he hopes some of that money comes to Brattleboro.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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