Keeping the roads smooth in Ledyard is something between an art form and military strategy. In about a month, the public works department and contractors will be rolling out to repair roads that have been afflicted by the frost heaves, plows and other punishments dolled out by the harsh winter.
The Public Works Department is planning road repairs, but it will have to work within a budget, and many thoroughfares will still make for bumpy driving.
At a budget meeting with the Town Council last week, Mayor Fred B. Allyn Jr. laid out his capital plan, which included $500,000 this year for major road restoration. He also proposed adding $3 million over the next three years, which he will go towards major road restoration projects around the town.
Steve Masalin, Ledyard’s public works director, is the one responsible for maintaining all of the town roads. A map in Masalin’s office shows the roads in different colors according to their needs. Plenty are colored blue (good) with many yellows and oranges and a handful of reds that indicate the worst conditions.
The degree of work required on the roads goes from none needed up through crack sealing to surface treatment, mill and overlay, and finally total reclamation.
Masalin knows that he won’t have enough money in the budget to fix all of the deteriorated roads in town at once. He would rather get to the roads in need before they require a full-blown reclamation. The goal, he says is to have roads last 20 years, and maybe longer.
“The idea of approaching road work in this plan is to put money into the roads earlier,” he said, “because it’s a lot cheaper and you can extend the life of the road doing that.”
What some people have trouble understanding, he says, is why some of the worst roads in town are left alone while others that seem less needy get repairs.
“The term is ‘worst first,’” Masalin said. “Basically, you hope you keep up with the money that you have. You end up spending more money because they deteriorate more quickly at a certain rate.”
A crack sealing or road treatment can add decades to the pavement’s lifespan, but the manicures can only go so far until its time to go in for a full surgery. The yellow roads marked for level and overlay means that workers will use machines to level the road surface before plopping down a fresh layer of asphalt.
Though this makes the surface smooth again, after too many of these treatments, the surface of the road will go above the curb line. This method also does not address any problems beneath the surface that cause holes and bumps.
The mill and overlay is a more drastic repair that involves grinding away some or most of the asphalt before adding the new layer. A total reclamation of a road means ripping out all the asphalt and sometimes doing work on the gravel underneath.
“Most roads fail because their sub grade material is poor or there are drainage issues,” said Masalin.
Beyond simply deeming which roads stand to benefit most from repairs, there are other considerations, such as coordinating work inside of subdivisions.
“There’s a lot of subjective judgment and decision making,” Masalin said. If he knows that pipes will be going in on a stretch of road, he will hold off road repairs so that he won’t see it all being ripped up later. This was a factor in scheduling work on Highland Drive.
In the meantime, Masalin has been looking for a paving contractor to do work on the Ledyard roads. Until June, he will be working with money from the last fiscal year. With next year's appropriation, he will be able to continue repairs on the roads that he deems most important.
It is a juggling act, an imperfect process at best. “I don’t know what it would take to make everyone in town happy,” Masalin conceded.
And so he continues to do his best.