Town Plans to Pave Dirt Road Sections in 2013

Shea: Paving saves money and environment

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Citing savings to both money and the environment, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea last week revealed that the town intends to pave trouble-prone dirt road sections in 2013. He commented Nov. 8 as the Town Board continued drafting the fiscal 2013 budget, which takes effect on Jan. 1 and which the board expects to complete on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Intersection of Travis Corners Road (paved) and Old Albany Post Road (dirt); Photo by K.E. Foley

Based on submissions from the town’s units and departments, the preliminary Philipstown 2013 budget shows a 2 percent increase to $8,997,052 from fiscal 2012’s $8,815,276. However, as Shea noted several times during the deliberations, final figures on many budget lines remain undetermined and he expects the ultimate total to go down.

“There are going to be changes and it is going to go down. The final budget is definitely going to be lower than this” preliminary version, Shea said. “Anywhere that we can cut, we’re cutting. We’re going to go lower than 2 percent” as an increase over 2012.

One way to cut costs is to pave parts of rural roads, he asserted. He and Town Board Member John Van Tassel cast the argument in terms of not only saving nature, lives, and property as well as dollars.

According to Van Tassel, paving dirt roads “is a life-saving issue.” Even without flooding and other hurricane damage, the roads can be difficult for emergency vehicles to use, he said. “If the road is nonexistent, it’s really impossible. There’s a chance where you’re going to have a problem of someone losing their life or home because an ambulance or a fire truck couldn’t get to them.”

Moreover, dirt roads tend to wander or vanish over time, especially in storms, Shea said. “It’s very tough to make them stay put. They are material-intensive; they are capital-intensive” and demand inordinate attention “to the detriment of other parts of the town,” he said. “We as a town cannot afford to keep doing what we’re doing. We’ll have discussions, we’ll listen to people. But there’s going to be paving this [coming] year. I’m not going to mince words. I’m not going to lie. It’s going to happen.”

Old Albany Post Road; Photo by K.E. Foley

As the supervisor outlined it, likely targets include the Saunders Hill stretch of Old Albany Post Road, a separate patch of Old Albany Post Road, and the western end of South Mountain Pass, along with sites in Continental Village. In general, the town will focus on areas “where we’ve had no success in maintaining the drainage because everything just washes out,” Shea explained, giving Saunders Hill as an example.

“We spend $50,000 on drainage and then during a big storm we watch it just disappear; it goes down into the brook.” He acknowledged that such a paving project “is anathema to some people. But it’s in all likelihood going to happen. We can’t keep watching pollution [occur] and the surface disappear.”

Like Saunders Hill, Shea said, South Mountain Pass, climbing uphill from Route 9D, “has been a perennial problem. No matter what we’ve done on that hill over the years, it has just not saved it.” He also mentioned Old Albany Post Road “going down toward Chapman and Canopus,” where the road “washboards out. It disappears,” despite thousands of hours of work and application of additives to strengthen it.

And treating road surfaces raises other questions. “People think of dirt roads as being green,” Shea observed. “They’re not. They use chemicals 12 months of the year. It’s a constant source of not only physical pollution but chemical pollution.”

Besides, Shea warned, the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] will not provide funds indefinitely for reconstruction of dirt roads. “The only way you’ll get funding in catastrophic events, hurricanes, through FEMA, going forward, is if you make a permanent improvement — i.e., pavement,” he said. “I’m not trying to disparage dirt roads. I lived on a dirt road for many years. Now that it’s paved, I’m happy.”

Town Hall at the American Legion

Bringing up another budget and infrastructure topic, Shea reported that the town continues to explore the possibility of revamping the American Legion property on Cedar Street, behind the Town Hall grounds, as a multipurpose complex. It could house both the local legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, contain some town government offices, feature a large public meeting space accessible to those with physical handicaps, and accommodate a consolidated local justice court system, he said.

The idea also involves potential use of an unoccupied town-owned house behind Town Hall for a wounded veteran, sale of the current VFW building on Kemble Avenue, and, perhaps, partnering with Putnam County on some aspects of the overall project. “It could meet everybody’s needs,” Shea said of the envisioned complex. In essence, the concept constitutes a “Plan B” if the controversial Butterfield Hospital redevelopment, whose plans include a multi-government building, does not go through.

6 thoughts on “Town Plans to Pave Dirt Road Sections in 2013

  1. A NOTE ON ROAD-PAVING PLANS. I appreciate the budget concerns and — having resided at both ends of Saunders Hill over the last 20 years — I can appreciate the need for change from practices that, in that span, have filled Philipse Brook and the Hoving Home pond with gravel and the air on dry summer days with dust. And I have experienced the deep frustration that comes with seeing costly drains and labor washed away in the remains of epic storms. In fact, my first instinct is to go for paving.

    But I also fear that a swift move to asphalt, without a serious consideration of intermediate alternatives and unanticipated consequences, could lead to regrets and — at worst — deaths as speeding cars encounter strolling residents.

    The problems are as variegated as the town’s old roads themselves. Some sections have unsustainable flooding because clearing and paved driveways on adjacent slopes act as funnels for runoff. That imposed vulnerability can’t be wished away, so paving may be unavoidable.

    Some spots have been widened so that old grassed swales no longer serve as drainage, leading to the need for engineered options.

    But some sections don’t seem to wash out (a case in point the very steep hill leading down to the Bird & Bottle Inn. A comparison of road treatment and “anatomy” there and on Saunders Hill might be sensible?

    Having written since the 1980s about the changing climate, I will be first in line to stress the importance of moving beyond today’s standards for dealing with flooding rains. One of the most robust projections in a warming world is for more rain to fall in heavy downpours. Dirt roads may simply be impractical and, yes, too costly. But we’ve seen enough paved roads wash out (Snake Hill) to know it’s not simply the surface material that determines a road’s fate in a bad storm.

    I know the Old Road Society had helpfully consulted Penn State’s Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies in the past (full disclosure; my wife is a member), and think one more round of such analysis may make sense — and I can imagine that there are enough residents with concerns that money could be raised for such a review without adding to the town’s budget woes.

    I’d be happy to be involved in discussions of alternatives, including the various paving options, and steps that I see as essential if paving proceeds. One is surely to determine spots for speed bumps or at least rumble strips on sections of Old Albany Post Road where car speeds are already high and will surely be higher.

    Such traffic calming features are commonplace from Brazil to Britain and I would expect any move to pavement here would include such them.

    So, change is clearly needed, but so is a bit more reflection and analysis.

    – Andy Revkin, Old Albany Post Rd.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Revkin for your erudite and thoughtful reaction to Mr. Shea’s article. I’ve been advocating drainage culverts for years but get only, “Oh, the State doesn’t pay for that” replies. You can count on many, many advocates of our beloved rural aspects to come out and support alternative, non-desecrating solutions to this dilemma.

  3. You can always tell when heavy rainstorms are on their way to our area — just look to see if a new crop of dirt has been put down on our historic dirt roads, just so they can be washed away.

  4. A group of energized residents intent on maintaining Philipstown’s dirt roads has joined together to advocate for the safety and economic viability of dirt roads, with proper drainage and engineering. A Facebook page has been set up to discuss and organize this effort.

  5. I applaud Mr. Van Shea and Mr. Van Tassel for confronting a sensitive, yet very important issue. Many of our town’s dirt roads, including Old Albany Post Road, need to be paved. Any way the issue is addressed, whether from a cost standpoint, from an environmental standpoint or from a safety standpoint, common sense points to paving.

    Our town has many needs. I and many of my neighbors on Old Albany Post Road would prefer that we pave Old Albany Post Road so that the town can use our tax revenues for other important needs rather than repeatedly maintaining our dirt roads only to watch these dirt roads erode immediately upon the next rainfall. Not only do many of us “dirt road residents” want the road paved, but also many of those Philipstown residents who live on paved roads are tired of subsidizing the dirt road preference of some residents. This issue has been discussed for years. The time to act and to pave is now.

  6. It’s great that the town is so sensitive to the dirt roads that serve the Garrison area of Philipstown. That being said, it would be even more wonderful if some of these public officials, especially those that rule the Village of Cold Spring, were a bit more sensitive to the conditions of the roads and sidewalks in this part of town.

    This is my first winter having my shop on Main Street and I can tell already that all it will take is another even moderate snow fall for this place to shut down entirely till next spring. How do the landlords get away with not shoveling and salting the sidewalks? Are there no fines for this outrageous lack of consideration? Doesn’t anyone worry about pedestrians possibly tripping and falling on the ice that’s already building up? It seems there are no “winter parking” rules in effect if they even exist in the first place. Then again, as I’m finding out, keeping the wonderful merchants and business owners of this town is an even lower priority than paving the back roads. What a disgrace.