Does public support upgrades for more roads?

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — When it was all said and done the total cost to repair Libby Road was less expensive than originally anticipated.

But, it was a four-year project that took from the paving fund and focused most of the road improvement money on one road.

Meanwhile, multiple roads in town — the list is long — get worse with weather and time.

While the Casco Board of Selectmen may likely decide to hire contractors to plug away at upgrading sections of the town’s worst roads, one board member talked about allocating more funding to do more long-term road repairs.

Selectman Grant Plummer said it might be a wise move to pass the road-improvement costs onto the budget committee, and to possibly provide residents at Town Meeting in June with the real costs of getting more road reconstruction done in a shorter period of time. Ultimately, funds are expended just trying to patch roads that really need reconstruction, he said.

Plummer said maybe the residents — who drive on the area roads — would be supportive of public funds going toward reconstruction of more than one section of one road each season.

On Tuesday night, the board left the meeting with homework: To drive around town, exploring and reevaluating which roads might get the No. 3 spot on the bad road list.

On Tuesday, the selectmen received documents that showed an engineer’s cost estimates for what needs to be done to improve Johnson Hill Road and Edwards Road. In recent months, the board top-listed those two roads.

The bottom line is not news to anyone: Road repairs are pricy.

“These projects are more significant than Libby Road” in terms of cost, according to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton.

“We may consider breaking segments up even smaller than what is being proposed,” he said.

“We have an analysis of the conditions of those two roads, and what can be done to bring them up to standard,” Morton said.

“It’s a tough choice. Both roads are in need of reconstruction,” he said.

Chairman Holly Hancock questioned whether some town roads could hold up while waiting in line for the right amount of funding.

“If we are looking at an annual budget for those projects, and looking at four years of work, is either of those roads going to hold up? What is happening to those roads while waiting for Phase Two,” Hancock said.

Morton had a short, simple answer.

“They are crumbling and falling apart — that is the upside. On the downside, we are putting a lot of (maintenance) money into making them a little better,” he said.

Morton recommended doing the annual roadwork by alternating each year between Johnson Hill and Edwards roads — doing the worst sections of each road first.

“The engineers agree with me,” he said.

Selectman Thomas Peaslee commented that the total cost of multiple sections of two roads was in the “neighborhood of one million dollars.”

“We did Libby Road and it took four years. Unless we pony up, we cannot afford more. Maybe, we should tell the taxpayers that we need more money,” Morton said.

“Our road budget has been about maintaining a good tax rate,” he said.

“The other option that some towns look at is: (the towns) have received authorization to bond and borrow the money and then fix the roads” so that they will last 15 to 20 years,” Morton said, adding that the loan is repaid over a set period of time.

“The town of Raymond has done that with good success,” he said.

On the upside: All the money the town spends on road maintenance becomes available for other roads.

“If you improve two roads that have large amounts of maintenance, you will have extra money,” he said.

The selectmen decided to hold a road repair workshop during their second meeting in January. The Casco Budget Committee will be invited to that workshop, Hancock said, since that group starts meeting around that time period.

Several years ago, the town invested in a Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) software program that tracks the conditions of road based on a concrete checklist. Several weeks of physical drive alongs were done so that members of the subcommittee could record data regarding road conditions.

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