Big Potholes a Sinkhole for Money

Municipal budgets are affected by rising oil prices and budgets stretched thin from snow and ice removal

Drivers beware: It’s pothole purgatory on the roads.

“This has been a terrific winter, and we’ve got problems. We’ve got potholes,” said Wilton’s Bill Brennan during a recent Board of Selectmen meeting.

From Greenwich to Shelton, and everywhere in between, potholes plague side roads and main roads alike. And though snow could still come again, some towns are already deploying their department of public works' crews. But because most towns blew through their snow and ice removal budgets, some are wondering whether they will be able to patch the roads.

“We are extremely concerned about the money,” said Scott Bartlett, Fairfield’s Superintendent of . “But the message to the taxpayer is this: There is no way, shape or form that we won’t repair the roads.”

What that means for Fairfield, and other towns, is some projects might be delayed. For example, Bartlett said the department wants to buy several hundred new folding chairs.

“If they have to stay bad a little longer, so be it,” he said, adding that the department will likely make scores of small cuts to help cover the costs.

Petroleum is a key ingredient in the asphalt that gets spread on roads and poured into potholes. Mixed with sand or gravel, the oil serves as the glue that holds the other materials together.

Because of the tumult in the Middle East, the price of petroleum has increased, and so has the price of asphalt. If the price continues to rise, towns might consider other ingredients to patch the roads.

“The risk is it's not as aesthetically pleasing to local residents. Nothing beats a two-inch thick, freshly-paved road,” Bartlett said.

As streets froze and thawed, cracks riddled the asphalt. Many of those cracks grew into craters, some big enough to swallow small animals.

“Unusually snowy and icy weather are now producing a bumper crop of potholes in Darien,” said Robert Steeger, Darien’s director of , in a press release. “In recent days town DPW forces have hit the street filling potholes with multiple crews. According to supervisor of Highways, George Swift, the number and severity of potholes popping up this year is the worst he’s seen in many years.”

Although Darien doesn’t have a budget specifically for pothole patching, Steeger said Swift has so far used 50 percent more patching material compared to last year.

Residents are encouraged to report potholes to the Department of Public Works using the town’s website, Steeger said.

The same goes for Wiltonians and other area residents.

“We know we have them. We’ve reported them to the state. There’s one on [Route] 33 about 18 inches wide and 6 inches deep. So anytime you see one on 33 or [Route] 7 report it to the state,” Brennan said. “We are going to get to them as fast as we can. Everyone needs to try to be a little patient. There was lots of damage and deterioration.”

Multiple calls to Wilton’s Director of Tom Thurkettle were not returned.

In Weston, Director of Joe Lametta said work has begun on schedule.

"Our winter patch and hot patch is taken out of a different budget than snow removal, so it won't be affected by the harsh winter, although we may spend more money than previous years on pothole patching," Lametta said.

In Ridgefield, Pete Hill, director of Public Works, said because they operate on a line-item basis for patching, the expenditures on snow and ice removal won't interfere with filling potholes.

The department buys batches of cold patch in 40-pound bags, upwards of $15,000 worth.

Hill said this year’s budget wouldn’t be affected because of the Middle East situation. However, it’s almost certain the rising price of oil will impact the 2011-12 budget.

Yet while price may go up, complaints and alerts from residents remain steady.

“We have a few more potholes than usual, but no more calls than normal,” Hill said. “That’s because we have a pretty aggressive paving program in place for the past 10 years.”


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