Town Board Digs Into Road Priorities

‘Salty’ talk and references to dirt roads

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

When someone says “salt of the earth,” Richard Shea prefers it not mean an over-abundance of gritty white stuff on winter roads.

Shea, the Philipstown supervisor, and his colleagues on the Town Board discussed their salty concerns during a workshop Wednesday night (Oct. 15) at Town Hall, conferring with Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico and his assistant, Maureen Etta, on the Highway Department portion of the town’s pending 2015 budget. Talk focused on priorities, including reducing the amount of salt used to de-ice roads. Dirt road matters came up as well.

The Highway Department submitted a draft budget anticipating $2,833,050 in expenses for 2015, with $315,000 of that earmarked for snow removal, and $163,000 in income, including state aid. Revisions can occur; the Town Board reviews and often tweaks departmental drafts before finalizing a town government budget. The fiscal year begins Jan. 1.

Chirico and Shea pointed out that road salt costs the town financially and in regard to environmental degradation. The town must acquire some 1,750 tons for this winter, at a cost of about $137,000, according to Etta.

Recently, the price climbed 27 percent, Chirico said. “You’re not going to be happy with those numbers,” he told Shea and Councilors Michael Leonard, Dave Merandy, Nancy Montgomery, and John Van Tassel.

“Shouldn’t we be really more aggressive” in finding alternatives? Shea asked. “You just think of this small town using 2,000 tons of salt in a winter. And that’s just us. Then you’ve got the county here. You’ve got DOT,” or the New York State Department of Transportation, plus Cold Spring, Nelsonville, and private contractors, all spreading salt, he said. “I can’t imagine the tonnage of salt going down on the roads and going into the water system. I know it’s a health and safety issue; everybody wants to get on a black road 10 seconds after the last [snow] flake hits the road.”

As for alternatives, “it’s a cost issue, but you’re going to pay regardless,” considering the threats salt poses to streams and wells, Shea noted. “If there’s any possible way to cut our use of salt I’d love to see us try.”

“I’ve been there,” futilely seeking possibilities, Chirico said, though he promised to check further. He said that one alternative to dry salt, a caustic brine solution, causes deterioration of bridges, and doesn’t work on dirt roads. “It’s no good for me. I can use it on the paved road [only]. I can’t take the frost out of that dirt road” with brine, he said. He also noted that sand costs less than salt but in the spring adds to dirt-road dust.

Chirico said the town’s supply for this winter consists of 1,500 tons of a salt-sand-calcium mix, and another 1,500 tons of salt alone, stored at the Highway Department.

Shea proposed that this winter Philipstown try using less salt and more sand, bringing in a road vacuum truck if necessary to sweep up the leftover sand in the spring. Chirico offered to try a sand-salt mixture on a 2-mile stretch of road this winter as a test. The board informally decided to experiment with those options.

Dirt roads

As Terry Zaleski, president of the Old Road Society, which advocates preservation of dirt roads, listened with other audience members, Chirico likewise linked Philipstown’s dirt roads to shortfalls in state highway aid, dispensed on the basis of lane miles. “I’m just bringing out the facts here,” Chirico said. Paved roads, at least 20 feet wide, have lanes in two directions, doubling the lane miles of a given length of road, while Philipstown’s roads frequently are narrow – 17 or 14 feet wide, he explained.

“We don’t have hard-surface roads. This is why we don’t get our fair share of CHIPs,” or Consolidated Highway Improvement Program allocations, something town residents should realize, he said. “If they want this [dirt roads], they’ve got to understand we’re not getting our fair share” of funding as a result.

2015 priorities

The board and Chirico also agreed on priorities for roadwork in 2015. A trio led the list: finishing the Indian Brook Road replacement culvert-bridge, the Avery Road bridge project, and improving Manitou Station Road, followed, if feasible, by drainage upgrades on South Mountain Pass and Old Albany Post Road.

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