AP NEWS

City is paving, but maybe not your street

April 7, 2019

STAMFORD — When Susan Bell visited the Czech Republic three years ago, one thing kept catching her eye.

The roads were nice — much better than the ones around her Springdale home, Bell said.

It was true in Germany, Switzerland, and France, too.

“In Germany, especially, the roads are a million times better,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why can’t it be this way in Stamford?’”

Now that it’s April, when asphalt plants open and paving season begins, Bell wants to know how many roads will be repaired.

“I am unhappy with the roads,” Bell said. “It’s time to spend some money on the roads.”

Residents’ complaints about cracked, crumbling, poorly patched streets are perpetual. At a recent budget hearing, Waterside resident Jon Alsonas said city streets “look like Beirut in the 1980s,” when that country was ravaged by war.

Mayor David Martin didn’t disagree.

“I thought, from the moment I was elected, that the roads are not in good shape,” said Martin, who began his first term in 2013. “We need to spend $6 million a year, maybe a little more, to maintain the roads, because it has not been kept up in the past. We did $6 million in 2018; if we start there, it will take a decade to catch up.”

Fading funds

It’s easy to fall short.

This fiscal year, for example, the city will spend $4.8 million on road repairs, Martin said.

“Another $1.6 million was to come from a surplus, but now that money has to go to mold,” he said of multimillion-dollar repairs underway to rid school buildings of an infestation discovered last summer. “We had to steal it back.”

For the fiscal year that begins July 1, he budgeted $4 million, Martin said.

“I plan to bond for another $1.6 million, so the goal is $5.6 million for fiscal 2019-20,” Martin said. “But that, too, is subject to mold.”

Such has been the case with the road-repair budget for quite some time, he said. Before he was elected, the city was spending an average of $3 million a year on road work, Martin said.

He increased it to about $5 million in 2014, but it fell back down around the $3 million mark for the next two years because money was needed to build a new elementary school and police headquarters, he said.

In 2017, the year he ran for re-election, he bumped it up to $6 million, but not for long. It fell to $4.8 million last year and will be $4 million this year, perhaps more if mold repairs don’t eat it up.

“We are scrambling to try to hold on to numbers that are close to $6 million,” Martin said.

List of 11

Around the city now, five crews are filling potholes reported to FixIt Stamford, the city’s online citizen request center at stamfordct.gov/fixit. Last month, 313 requests were filed and 130 were completed, Martin said.

But road repair is a different animal.

Stamford has 313 miles of roads, the largest municipal network in the state, Martin said. There are another 35 miles of private roads plus those deemed “unaccepted” — streets built by developers years ago that the city may not consider its own. There are 46 miles of state roads, including High Ridge and Long Ridge roads and Washington and Tresser boulevards, which are the responsibility of the Department of Transportation.

According to the city’s website, 11 streets are slated for fixing before this fiscal year ends on June 30. Five are to be entirely repaved — Berrian Road, Stillwater Avenue, Taff Avenue, Orchard Street and Homestead Avenue.

Portions of six others are on the list: Palmers Hill Road, Havemeyer Lane, Hope Street, Newfield Avenue, West Broad Street and Summer Street.

There will be another list once the 2019-20 budget kicks in on July 1.

Martin said the city fixed 53 streets since he was re-elected in 2017, and he has a list of 125 to repair over the next four or five years.

That puts Stamford on track to fix roughly 25 streets a year.

How other cities do it

Norwalk plans to spend $5 million to work on 70 streets this season, The Hour newspaper reported in January. That city posts a five-year forecast of streets to be paved, which it is able to do because a consultant is paid to assess one quarter of all the streets annually, for a full inventory check every four years.

Mayor Harry Rilling said Norwalk, which has 255 road miles — 58 fewer than Stamford — works carefully to create the paving schedule.

“The condition of our roads is one of the most important quality-of-life issues for our residents,” Rilling said. “No one wants streets that are full of potholes or crumbing due to neglect.”

In Danbury, with 240 road miles, officials have budgeted $5.4 million for road paving this year, The News-Times reported in January. The city intends to save money on pothole patching by moving straight to paving in April, when the asphalt plants open.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said his city expects to fix about a dozen streets this year.

“It’s one of the top priorities when you are trying to develop a community economically,” Boughton said. “You have to make sure people can get from place to place.”

But it’s getting tougher, he added.

Uphill battle

“When I took office in 2011, gas was about $1.80 a gallon; it’s going on $3 now, and asphalt has risen a lot more,” Boughton said. “It limits how many roads you can do in a year.”

The climate is taking a toll, he said.

“Weather conditions have made roads less durable. It goes from cold, to frost, to wet, to warm, and back. That’s been the cycle for the last 10 years,” the Danbury mayor said.

Martin said building contractors, and utility companies that dig up streets to repair water and gas mains and install fiber optic cable, have contributed to poor road conditions. Stamford lawmakers last year instituted stricter requirements for repairing the trenches contractors dig.

Road work has big built-in expenses, Martin said.

“Sometimes storm drains have to be repaired, which slows everything down. Sometimes it’s drainage problems,” Martin said. “Fifteen percent of the money goes to police on extra-duty pay to direct traffic. When we use outside contractors, they pay the police, but the city has to pay the contractor.”

As for Bell, the Stamford resident said she hopes that, this year, a bunch of roads will be fixed citywide.

“The city hasn’t kept up with it,” Bell said. “I think everyone can see that. It’s getting ridiculous.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.