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Pittsfield Council Talks Roadwork and Weather Delays
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
12:13PM / Thursday, January 25, 2024
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Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales updates the Pittsfield City Council on road work plans on Tuesday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Half of the work done on city roads since the turn of the century was completed in the last seven years. 

Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales broke down the last few years of roadwork to the City Council on Tuesday. Fifty percent of the work done in 23 years was completed over the last seven with a significant increase in fiscal 2024.  

Though weather conditions stalled a great deal of the work, it will pick up this spring.

"There has been a significant amount of work put together," Morales said. "We're continuing with this as I push to bring our overall condition of our streets to a higher level."

The city uses a "pavement condition index" to rank the severity of pavement distress from zero to 100.  Morales reported that the PCI in general is in the low 60s and the goal is to bring it to about 70, which he said will be a "massive undertaking."

"But I think with the work we're doing and the financial support from the City Council we can achieve that."

Winter weather accelerates the amount of distress on roadways — especially in the Northeast with multiple cycles of freezing and thawing.

"That places a lot more distress in our pavement and creates more instances for water to enter the subsurface and eventually, it freezes back again, pops it out, and creates the potholes that we're seeing," Morales said.

"So we are getting attacked by weather in that sense, but we are keeping our efforts to be able to respond to it."

Almost half of the work for FY24, which started July 1, 2023, was pushed to this spring because of the weather conditions. Holmes Road is one of the 26 delayed roads.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III said pothole season is on its way and will be harsh.

"I think the perception out there is snow plows and salt are bad for roads but freezing and thawing is way worse on the roads. I think it's important that people understand that just because we don't see a lot of plow trucks," he said.

"These warming temperatures of last week being in the single digits and then Friday is going to be 40 degrees, that's the absolute worst thing to happen to asphalt."

He called for more crack sealing and Ward 3 Councilor Matthew Wrinn agreed.

Morales said there are "many, many" roads that need to be paved so it is important to use the PCI measuring tool and meet with representatives for multiple rounds of prioritization.

"In a perfect world I guess you would see the same number of miles for every ward," he said. "In reality, every ward not only has different lane miles but also a different level of distress so we try to use that to be truly equitable in the amount of work we do per ward."

Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren said he would like the PCI public so that the councilors and residents can be on top of it.

There is an expected budget of $4 million for the next project and the city is now focused on analyzing data to prioritize areas in need of repair. Morales reported that factors such as traffic volume, pedestrian usage, and strategic relevance within the network are also considered and that it is not just about fixing the worst roads first but making strategic investments for maximum impact and safety.

In fiscal 2022, the city appropriation for roadwork was $2.5 million with more than $1.3 million in state Chapter 90 road funds. A total of nearly $3.7 million was spent on accepted streets and about $151,000 was spent on in-house work for mostly unaccepted streets.

In FY23, the city appropriation was more than $3.2 million with another $1.3 million in Chapter 90 funds and about $653,000 in Chapter 90 WRAP (Winter Recovery Assistance Program) funds. More than $4.4 million was spent on accepted streets including $997,468 in WRAP funds, about $391,000 in in-house work, and more than $1.6 million on sidewalks.

In FY24, the city appropriation was $7.5 million with again $1.3 million in Chapter 90. A total of more than $8.4 million was spent on accepted streets, about $216,000 on in-house work with an additional $108,111 encumbered, and about $749,236 was spent on sidewalks.

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