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PACTS proposes cities, towns increase their share of road costs

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PACTS proposes cities, towns increase their share of road costs

PORTLAND — The area's regional transportation planning office wants municipalities to shoulder a larger portion of improvement costs for collector roads after receiving less money than expected in federal economic recovery funds.

Results of a recently completed study by Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers indicate about 117 of the 200 miles of collector roads in the 15 communities that make up the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) need structural improvements in the next 10 years to bring them up to Maine Department of Transportation standards, Paul Niehoff, PACTS senior transportation planner, said Monday.

The $230 million estimated price tag for road improvements would include correcting the gravel used in construction, improving drainage and paving, creating proper travel lane and shoulder widths, complying with accessibility standards for those with sidewalks and maintaining utility clear zones.

"What we wanted is an independent study to look at all of the collector road structures ... because when you need to intelligently manage your infrastructure, you need to know the condition it's in," Niehoff said. "If you don't know what you have, it's all subjective when you select the roads. We ranked them in order of priority."

Collector roads, Niehoff said, are those that funnel local traffic from residential areas to wider streets called arterials, like Forest and Warren avenues in Portland.

With only $25 million in the next 10 years slated for roads that include much of Route 1, Route 115, Tuttle Road in Cumberland, Route 77, Route 9 and River Road in Windham, PACTS had hoped Federal Economic Stimulus money would make up a good portion of the difference. But, of the 6 percent of the stimulus money earmarked for transportation, Maine received only a small portion, coming in at 48th in the nation.

The total amount awarded to the PACTS area was about $10 million. Of that, $3.5 million has been allocated to collector roads in the PACTS region, with the balance going to other projects that include the Veranda Street bridge in Portland and the purchase of new buses. Niehoff said he had no explanation for why the state was so low on the stimulus ladder, but speculated that it could be Maine's rural character.

Although the agency is hoping for a second recovery package later this year, the PACTS Policy Committee is meeting this week with officials from Maine DOT to discuss a proposal to drop much of the road system from its oversight. That would force municipalities to spend more local money to improve roads in their towns.

Maine DOT, PACTS and municipal leaders are also looking at ways to make collector road improvements more cost effective, Niehoff said.

"For example, the theory is, for a road in poor condition the best way to reconstruct it is to excavate to a certain depth, install drainage, good gravel and then repave," he said. "But the alternative to that is grind up what exists already and pave over that – basically it's still costly, but not as costly as the first example. It's just trying to determine a way to do more miles with the same amount of money and still get the same life expectancy out of the project."

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.