Town's gravel roads: 'Scenic but costly'
For New Milford residents who live on dirt and gravel roads year round, washouts and gravel spills onto lawns due to heavy rainfalls create hardship and often high, out-of-pocket, cleanup costs.
For the town, the cost of maintaining the 25.5 miles of gravel roads exceeds the cost of maintaining a similar mileage of paved roadway.
Those gravel sections are spread out over 34 town roads.
"Generally, the cost of maintaining gravel roads is four to five times more than maintaining paved roads," said Public Works director Mike Zarba.
"The initial capital investment to pave these roadways is high but it's an investment in the future. Over time, we can afford to do it."
In the town's report to FEMA for requested reimbursement for road repair cost from Tropical Storm Irene, 540 hours of personnel time and time for use of two graders and two loaders were figured in just for gravel road washout repairs, Mr. Zarba said.
Those roads with small tributaries, including Long Mountain Road and Mud Pond Road, regularly wash out with heavy rainfall.
Jerusalem Road is "essentially on a mountain of ledge," said Mr. Zarba..
"When you get 15 inches of rain like we did in September," he said, "the ground can't absorb the rainfall. We saw a lot more run off."
Roadside ditches, known as swales, serve as catch basins for rainwater. For roads with greater than 10 percent grade, gravel can pile up in those catch basins via heavy rain, eventually causing gravel washout onto property near by, Mr. Zarba said.
Paving gravel sections of roads began to be budgeted two years ago in the town's five-year capital plan for Public Works.
Some $550,000 has been budgeted each year since, Mr. Zarba said, with a plan in place to pave one mile of dirt/gravel roadway yearly over the next five years.
The economy of past years has stalled moving forward on that paving plan. And paving those roadways is often difficult, Mr. Zarba said.
"Unfortunately, there are issues like areas of ledge under and around these roads," he said. "That makes it difficult to put in drainage."
A proposed bill put forth last week by Congressman Chris Murphy, D-5, the Rebuiliding Our Economy And Limiting The Impacts Of Expected Flooding Act, would provide $100 million yearly in grants for municipalities such as New Milford for flood mitigation.
The funding could provide resources for addressing flooding on Route 7, possibly freeing up town resources for projects like gravel road paving.