Winter takes toll on Western Avenue

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BRATTLEBORO — Steve Barrett is used to hearing frustrated motorists grumble about the roads this time of year.

"We understand that," the public works director said Tuesday during a meeting. "The most deplorable roadway in Brattleboro is Western Avenue. It has an overabundance of potholes."

Sub-zero temperatures and freeze-thaws cause the roads to deteriorate, Barrett told the Select Board. He said potholes form as the road surface fails and water gets into the soil then the pavement cracks. He called Western Avenue "unique" because a concrete road built sometime in the 1940s sits below the pavement.

Barrett said the town performs maintenance on the road but the state is responsible for resurfacing as it changes into Route 9. He has urged state representatives to help speed up the process.

Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham-2-2, "has been very supportive of advocating for this proposal," Barrett said.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation has plans to repave a portion of Route 9 in Wilmington to Edward Heights in Brattleboro in 2020. But Barrett is unsure when the agency plans to repave from Edward Heights to Interstate 91. VTrans officials did not immediately respond to questions about the project.

A study from the agency found that more than 13,000 vehicles use Western Avenue every day, Barrett told the board. He has different methods to patch potholes and some last longer than others. The most expensive is the most preferable option but funds are tight.

Barrett expects to overspend on his department's winter budget this year. He has run out of sand and will soon be out of salt. Maintenance on snowblowers has exceeded anticipated costs by $30,000. Overtime also has been accumulating.

The department's budget for roads went from $300,000 to $250,000 last year and "we've stayed within our budget to do that type of work," Barrett said. He expects to return to the board with plans for more repairs when the winter starts winding down. "We will make decisions on what we can spend things on and what we can't spend things on."

In other business:

— Select Board member David Schoales plans to come back to the board with a draft letter to send to the Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe promoting a committee's "alternative governance structure" model to comply with Act 46. The state law is getting school districts to merge to find efficiencies and improve student equity.

Schoales said the 2-1 vote in communities rejecting the originally proposed merger in November should be referenced in the letter. He believes Brattleboro could lose programs and see tax rate hikes if Dummerston, Guilford and Putney merge with the town's school district under the first plan.

"We already have a pretty high level of equity across the district if you look at test scores," he said of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, which the previously mentioned districts are all a part of. "The inequity is in the tax rates."

The original merger plan and the alternative model have been submitted to the AOE, which will consider how the districts should comply with Act 46. The alternative model is said to include more representation from communities.

"I'm not at a point personally where I can say I like the alternative governance structure as opposed to the Act 46 Study Committee one," Select Board chairwoman Kate O'Connor said. "Because I haven't versed myself in either one."

Board members wanted to see the language in the letter before committing to its approval.

— WTSA secured a liquor permit for the Brattleboro Brewers Festival on May 26.

"It's been very successful in the past," Town Manager Peter Elwell said, expecting the same again this year.

Organizers are still "fine-tuning" some of the details, he added. Police and fire officials are involved in the process.

— The town will be submitting a grant application to the Vermont Community Foundation's Spark! Connecting Community program in hopes of getting $3,000 for the skatepark proposed for Living Memorial Park.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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