The three city councilors present at Monday night’s meeting approved an additional $275,000 to be included to the FY20 paving budget bid. The additional funds could come from a mix of reserves, a grant award – pending state approval–, possible car rental tax monies and/or the balance sheet. The add raises the total paving budget to $900,000. The project will likely go out to bid this week, according to public works director Justin Rabidoux. 

“We were Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill,” Rabidoux said of plowing efforts this winter. “Never escaping that freeze and thaw cycle.”

Indeed, this winter’s harsh freeze and thaw pattern contributed considerable damage to the city’s roadways. Salting, especially with a liquid additive mixture, provided a dilemma: On the one hand, the brine saved labor hours by effectively melting snow at the beginning of a storm, keeping workers out of their plows for a bit of time, according to Rabidoux. On the other, it seeped into the roads’ voids and cracked them during the freeze and thaw cycle. 

“If we can buy ourselves a couple hours on the front end of a storm it really pays dividends on the back end,” Rabidoux said. 

Priority streets for this year’s paving include Dorset Street; Spear Street; Airport Parkway; Patchen Road; and Timber Lane among others, he said. In more residential areas, priorities include fixes to Central Avenue; Brookwood Drive; Harbor View Road; Deane Street; Oakwood Drive; Sherry Road and Woodcrest Drive. Additional paving will be completed as the budget allows. 

This year will see two paving techniques used based on the condition of the road in question, Rabidoux said. The first, includes grinding down the existing asphalt about two inches and repaving on top of that. The second, involves scraping and filling holes in the road then repaving on top.

To boost the paving budget to $900,000, the city could use about $110,000 from its City Center Reserve, $50,000 from its council-designated reserve and $144,000 from a Dorset Street Grant to offset paving expenses in other areas, Rabidoux told councilors. The Dorset Street Grant would total $180,000 if approved by the state – however, the city would have to foot 20 percent. Councilors could also use funds from the balance sheet, though deputy city manager Tom Hubbard cautioned against covering the full expense from that pool. The city council will decide where to take funds from at a future meeting, possibly on May 6, member Thomas Chittenden said. 

Should an estimated $125,000 from the car rental tax come in, that could be used to make up some of the additional $275,000 needed, with the Dorset Street Grant possibly offsetting $144,000 worth of paving beyond the $900,000 budget, Rabidoux said. 

City councilors wondered if perhaps creating a prioritized paving schedule could be a beneficial planning measure to prepare for future years’ expenditures. Rabidoux said in the past South Burlington has created five-year plans, and he’d be open to making something like that again. While the plans can’t predict the exact span and damage of a particular winter, they serve as a good base. 

While Chittenden said he wasn’t against prioritizing services, he felt like the city is usually good at planning its winter operations. 

“I have the opinion from my five years on this body that we have great plowing services in South Burlington,” he said. “This was just a really rough winter.”

Across the state, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) overspent its winter maintenance budget by about $5 million as of March, according to Todd Law of the VTrans maintenance bureau. In early March, the agency had also exceeded its seasonal average for salt use by about 50,000 tons, Law said. 

South Burlington owns and manages about 82 miles of road. The city received about 97 inches of snow this season and performed winter maintenance about 93 days during the season, according to Rabidoux. About 2,000 tons of salt were used to combat the weather, outpacing annual totals from 2013 through 2018.

“The council understands our roads are in disrepair,” chairwoman Helen Riehle told The Other Paper. “We really need to focus some dollars on them this year.”

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