Managers discuss pavement management, ‘complete streets’

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Transportation issues, particularly “complete streets” initiatives and pavement management, were the topics of the July 20 meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association in Wrentham.
 
The state’s Complete Streets Funding Program, launched in February 2016, has proven popular, with a number of communities developing best practices and winning national recognition for their policies.
 
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation program will provide $50 million for cities and towns over five years, according to Program Manager Eileen Gunn, of which $12.5 million has been spent so far.
 
The program has three tiers of eligibility requirements. Up to $50,000 is available in planning assistance for the Tier 2 required prioritization plan alone, and the program has been averaging $35,000 per grant request. The program currently has 60 approved prioritization plans from cities and towns across the state.
 
The award for construction is up to $400,000 annually once a community has passed tiers 1 and 2.
 
Communities with “complete streets” policies consider all modes of transportation, including public transit, walkability and bikeability.
 
Gunn said the state program is designed to “let the towns prioritize where they want to invest in multimodal accommodation.”
 
Panelists from the complete streets communities of Lexington and Spencer discussed their experiences.
 
“A big part of using complete streets is improving bike infrastructure,” said Lexington Selectman Michelle Ciccolo, “the economic value of which can be seen in our thriving downtown, which has a busy bike shop and Ride Studio Cafe.”
 
Ciccolo advised managers to look at “green transportation” options, which are popular among younger residents, and to consider the impact of popular fitness trackers that encourage users to “increase their step count.”
 
Budget constraints often limit local road construction, repair and improvement projects, but smaller street improvement projects can have a large impact, Ciccolo said, such as re-allocating space on a road (i.e., a “road diet”) or installing speed bumps.
 
“Complete streets are context-sensitive,” Ciccolo said. “And you can’t treat every street the same way, nor do you treat rural streets as you might treat urban streets.”
 
Former Spencer Town Administrator Adam Gaudette, who recently took the town manager position in Northbridge, discussed the steps Spencer has taken to aggressively address road issues, which the town had difficulty keeping up with when relying solely on Chapter 90 funding.
 
“The state of our transportation network is very important to public safety and economic development,” Gaudette said.
 
The town looked to Community Development Block Grant funds for infrastructure projects, including drainage and bridge repair, as well as State Transportation Improvement Program funds for a Main Street revitalization project. To pursue grant funding, towns often need to do costly upfront design work, Gaudette said.
 
Spencer faced a backlog of $35 million in pavement improvement projects, and over a six-month period worked with the public and a number of committees to compile data and propose a $19 million debt exclusion for roads. The debt exclusion passed, and work will start later this year.
 
“You have to think long term,” said Spencer Highway Superintendent Steven Tyler.
 
The Complete Streets Funding Program was another opportunity for Spencer to work on roadway needs. The town already had a sidewalk improvement plan, which evolved into its Tier 2 plan under Complete Streets.
 
Tyler advised taking advantage of state templates, while ensuring that your policy benefits your community, even if that means not attaining the highest score possible.
 
Representatives from Needham discussed pavement management. Needham uses a Pavement Condition Index (a scale of 0-100) to evaluate pavement conditions across the town, which helps Public Works crews “use the right treatment at the right time,” said Carys Lustig, acting director of facility operations.
 
Under the PCI scoring system, roads with a score of 70 require assistance. A score of 60-70 means looking at surface treatments. A score below 60 requires rehabilitation or replacement. The lower the score, the more expensive the treatment.
 
Needham is working toward an average PCI of 75. The town maintains historical records on its roads going back 30 to 50 years, which are referenced when determining the best treatment options.
 
When making decisions based on the PCI, the town also takes potential utility work into consideration.
 
Lustig said Needham relies on teams of employees to conduct the PCI evaluation every two years using a “windshield system,” which means driving town roads over the course of three weeks and noting conditions. The town is now looking into using StreetScan, which is more expensive but would require fewer personnel hours and would need to be completed only every eight to 10 years.