Why I feel it is important to take action
By Richard Shea
Philipstown has approximately 30 miles of dirt roads and 30 miles of paved roads. These roads traverse some of the most challenging terrain in Putnam County if not New York state. Most towns and counties in New York state have done away with dirt roads including many upstate communities. Here in Philipstown we recognize that they are part of our heritage while at the same time realizing the demands of modern travel and schedules.
When I was younger Philipstown was a much different place. Many families owned only one car and home deliveries were uncommon, unless we were talking about milk. In the summer many of the dirt roads had a strip of grass growing down the middle. The volume of traffic and the expectations were both much lower. At that time commuting by train was an anomaly.
Today things are quite a bit different. The number of trips per day on all our roads has increased exponentially. The size of the vehicles traveling the roads has also increased, with large delivery trucks crisscrossing every road in town. These things, combined with a noticeable change in weather patterns, have put a strain not only on the roads but the budgets needed to maintain them.
Whenever the subject of paving a section of dirt road is brought to the Town Board one thing is guaranteed: a lot of emotion will also come with it. Locally this is the third rail of politics and makes for some very interesting meetings. Many times these discussions result in no action. This cannot be the case when it comes to the discussion of the small section of hill on South Mountain Pass. I have watched the hill on the 9D side of the pass wash out so many times I have lost count. There have been times when the road has disappeared in its entirety — this despite our best efforts at maintaining the road.
When we talk about dirt roads what we are really discussing is a mixture of aggregates known as item 4. This is a material that is approved for road building. We must now truck the material in from Orange County. This requires many trips using large diesel-powered trucks. It is then spread and graded using large diesel-powered machines.
My point is that we are burning lots of dirty fossil fuel in large expensive vehicles. Once in place, chemicals are added in the form of hardeners and dust control. Many times after heavy rains all this material washes into the adjoining streams not only polluting them with turbidity but filling them up with the combination of dirt and chemicals. This is unacceptable.
Despite all the different ideas that have been tried, from open drainage with large stones to cutoffs to underground piping, eventually the result has often been the same: large quantities of material winding up in the streams.
I will finish with this. Many years ago my mentor Jim Rod of Audubon said that the biggest threat to the brooks and streams was the dirt coming off the roads. Everyone has seen streams that are clogged with road material and the harsh results. During my tenure on the Town Board over the past 14 years we have paved very little, probably less than one mile. The project at South Mountain Pass represents less than 1/3 of a mile. This section of road averages between 10 and 14 percent grade and has been a perennial if not monthly problem.
There have been many claims that there are solutions to the issues. To date many have been tried and none have been successful. This does not mean that we will stop trying to find solutions or that we will be embarking on a program of large-scale paving of all dirt roads. No one wants to see that and it is not necessary. What we do need are solutions to the areas that are the most challenging. To that end we are actively seeking alternatives and will continue.
As for the small section of hill on the South Mountain Pass I am in favor of action. With an investment of over $250,000 dollars in drainage I feel that it is in the best interest of taxpayers and the environment to secure the road by paving that limited section as soon as possible.
Richard Shea is Philipstown supervisor.
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