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Salem’s road repair budget discussed by selectmen

SALEM — With 182 miles of roadways within Salem’s town limits, keeping streets safe for travelers is a never-ending battle, Engineering Director Robert Puff told the Board of Selectmen Monday night.

The town’s road repairs budget and the current state of local roads was the topic of discussion during this week’s selectmen meeting, where Puff shared the results of the most recent Pavement Condition Inventory (PCI).

Currently, Salem has a 10-year road plan that’s based on the pavement management program, through which public works crews regularly evaluate, plan, maintain and rehabilitate local roadways.

Puff said the PCI rates each road on a scale of zero through 100, with zero being “effectively impassible” and 100 being “excellent.”

In 2003, the town began initiating an inventory to evaluate the entire roadway system, with the expansion of Salem’s GIS computer technology.

By 2009, selectmen formed a Road Stabilization Committee, which adopted the current 10-year-program in 2010.

The committee meets regularly to update the plan as needed, Puff said.

The most recent PCI was completed last year and Puff said it is one of several factors considered in the process of prioritizing needed repairs.

“Traffic volume, demand on town resources and other factors are also weighed in,” said Puff.

Of Salem’s 182 miles of roadways, 119 miles are considered local roads, meaning they are mostly residential routes that otherwise aren’t regularly traveled by passing commuters.

Puff said that over the past decade, the town has spent approximately $32.6 million on road repairs and improvements.

In 2003, Salem’s average road rating was 79/100. Last year’s PCI showed a one percent increase to 80/100.

“In the past decade after $32 million in investments we’ve raised the average condition just one point,” Puff said. “Looking forward, based on the 10-year plan that’s currently on the table, there’s an allotted $55 million in funding over that period. That represents funding appropriated at $ 4.5 million annually.”

Based on those recent trends and projections, Puff said he expects the PCI value to “lie flat” over the next decade.

“For all intents and purposes, we’re basically maintaining status quo,” he said.

Puff attributed rising costs of concrete and other materials to the anticipated increases, noting that the most expensive element of the road repairs program is base reconstruction.

Routine and preventative maintenance, such as overlay or crack seal, is significantly cheaper, according to Puff, who said 88 percent of the program’s expenses are used to reconstruct less than 20 percent of Salem’s roads.

“Overall roads are in very good condition,” he concluded. “That value will be maintained if we move forward with current program funding. But we need to continue allocating money to the program.”

Selectmen still expressed concern over the program’s current success rate.

“When you throw more money at something and only have it increase one percent…. how can we throw so much more money at this over the next 10 years,” Selectman Stephen Campbell said. “Try and explain how that makes any sense?”

“I suspect (the improvement rate) will, in fact, go up more than one point,” Chairman Everett McBride said. “But we really won’t know until we actually go in and do the work.”

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