Upper Valley paving projects surge a year after the pandemic summer

  • Catlin and Keshia Passonno, who are married, remove line striping targets along South Street in Woodstock, Vt. on July 7, 2021. The street was recently resurfaced as part of the town's paving project. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Chris Collins manages a post while Korey Dalley, both of Lafayette Highway Specialists, unloads another while replacing traffic signs along the green in Woodstock, Vt., on Wednesday, July, 7, 2021. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Upper Valley Business Writer
Published: 7/10/2021 9:42:30 PM
Modified: 7/10/2021 9:42:30 PM

Asphalt pavers and drum compactors are back on the road again.

After a year when many road projects were pushed to the side as towns grappled with holes in their budgets caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer resurfacing season is once again underway, leaving a welcomed whiff of hot tar in the air.

And for paving companies, the to-do list is long.

“We just finished up (the) town of Woodstock. We are working West Windsor and Enfield currently. We just finished up the town of Grafton. We got work on Hanover and Lebanon to come. Hartford still to come. Lyme and Orford still to come. Corinth still to come,” said Stuart Chase, president of West Lebanon paving company Blaktop, which handles many of the resurfacing contracts among Upper Valley towns. “This summer has been much busier than last summer.”

Road resurfacing projects fall under two categories: roads maintained by the state and those maintained by towns. Drivers along Upper Valley roads will encounter projects undertaken by both governing bodies this summer, although which is which may not be readily apparent to the casual observer.

Both New Hampshire and Vermont are pouring hefty sums — in some cases helped by federal stimulus money channeled to each state — into resurfacing Upper Valley roads, according to the states’ transportation departments.

In Grafton and Sullivan counties, the major state resurfacing projects set for this summer, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s online Project Information Center include:

■Route 12A between Claremont and Cornish

■Route 4 between Lebanon and Canaan

■East Thetford Road between Lyme and the Lyme-East Thetford Bridge

■Stretches along Route 10 between Croydon Flat and Grantham

Across the river in Windsor and Orange counties, Vermont state resurfacing projects this summer include

■Route 113 between Chelsea and Thetford

■Route 14 between the Hartford Library and intersection of routes 4 and 5

■Route 4 between the downtown Woodstock and the east end of the village at Sawyer Road, as well as stretches along routes 106 and 12

■A 9-mile stretch along Route 5 between Norwich and Thetford

■A 12-mile section of Interstate 89 between Hartford and Sharon

The sorely needed road rebuilding project currently underway along Route 132 between the Norwich town line and Tucker Hill Road in Thetford is a Thetford town project and, despite being numerically identified as a state route, is in fact a Thetford town road.

Thetford Town Manager Bryan Gazda said the “base layer” of the project will be completed this year and the final top paving will be completed next season. Thetford is also laying down a “top coat” of pavement between Tucker Road and the South Strafford town line this summer (voters approved a $4 million bond for the Route 132 project last November).

Pete Kulbacki, director of public works for Hanover, said his department expects to lay down — assuming voters approve the town budget at town meeting next week — 5,000 tons of asphalt on town roads this summer.

“Usually we’d be halfway through our paving by now, but we can’t do anything until we have the money,” said Kulbacki, who estimates the town will spend about $400,000 this year on paving.

Jim Taylor, public works manager in Enfield, estimates he will need about 2,100 tons of asphalt to pave Livingston Lodge Road, Bud-Mil Road, Warren Road, Sloan Road and sections of Algonquin Road.

“They started this afternoon on Livingston Lodge after they finished up in West Windsor,” Taylor said about contractor Blaktop on Wednesday. “They called up at lunchtime and said, ‘We’d really like to get started today’ ” — a fortuitous adjustment, as it wound up raining Wednesday night.

Taylor said the Enfield budget for paving this year is $175,000, about the same as in prior years, but with the cost of asphalt up $10 to $68 per ton he’s getting less for the money.

“Oil prices were way down last summer because of COVID,” Taylor said, which led to some of the lowest asphalt prices he had ever seen.

With the economy improving, however, “oil prices are going up again,” he said, although asphalt is still far below the peak $80 per ton he remembers from before the 2008 recession.

In Lebanon, Everett Hammond, assistant public works director, said the city is planning to resurface or “fog seal” — light application of a diluted asphalt emulsion — a total 5.5 miles of the city’s 98 miles of roads, or 5.6% of the total.

With the demand for road building equipment right now all across New England, milling equipment is “hard to get” — even for a single day — although he expects to have the machine in hand by the end of the month.

Hammond estimates that it costs about $105,000 to resurface a 22-foot-wide 1-mile stretch of road with a 2-inch depth of asphalt at the current cost of nearly $70 per ton for asphalt — before factoring in the cost of “traffic control,” which is handled by off-duty police officers at overtime pay rates and thereby increasing project costs by thousands.

Lebanon will spend $700,000 on paving this year, Hammond said, which includes $500,000 allocated in the highway budget plus $200,000 carried over from last year’s budget.

Still, it’s not enough to cover the 8 to 10 miles of city roads that Hammond estimates Lebanon needs to resurface each year, which is one of the reasons for experimenting with fog sealing, a lower-cost alternative.

“That’s why we’re trying different applications, to stretch the mileage,” he said.

Hannah Tyler, Hartford’s public works director, said the town will be repaving West Gilson Avenue, Chittenden Way, Morey Lane, Wrights Reservoir Road, Safford Road and Willard Road — a total of about 2 miles requiring 3,100 tons of asphalt.

A minor resurfacing job, right? Not quite.

Two miles “may not sound like a lot but we are doing in-depth road reconstruction,” explained Tyler. “That means they come in and remove all the asphalt, grind it up, put it back in the roadbed and pave.”

Hartford will spend about $414,000 on resurfacing its roads, which will be done by Blaktop, and Tyler said they are expected to complete the job by September.

Chase, the Blaktop executive, said the company staffs up to 50 employees and has three crews working 10-hour days during the road resurfacing season, which runs from May 1 to Thanksgiving. In a typical year Blaktop will lay down 80,000 tons of asphalt, but this year the company looks to be closing in on 100,000 tons.

“That would be an exceptional year for us,” Chase said. “We’re closer probably to that than we have been in a number of years. We’re only halfway through our season.”

Chase sees the increase in demand for asphalt as directly related to COVID-19 last summer.

“Everyone was concerned what the future held so the money didn’t flow to pay for these projects,” he said. “Now towns are making up for their lack of ability to get the work done last summer.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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