By Steve Moore
OTISFIELD—Do Otisfield residents want to pay to put new tires and shock absorbers on their cars each year or make the hard financial decision to improve town roads?
That was a question raised by Road Committee Chairman Quentin Henderson to Otisfield residents who attended an informational meeting on Thursday, Oct. 23, to hear about the assessment of town roads.
Henderson said the town roads were evaluated over the last few years using a sophisticated computer program called Road System Management Software (RSMS), developed by the Maine Department of Transportation.
The Road Committee’s work began in 2010 as a result of a request by the Board of Selectmen and was guided by the Maine Local Roads Center in Augusta. Over the last few years, an appraisal was conducted that involved inventorying all 47 miles of town roads by driving each mile, using GPS technology to enter data. Henderson, along with David Heyer and Dan Peaco, who are also on the committee, gathered the information.
“The assessment required driving, walking, measuring and some debating to reach a decision,” Henderson said. “Keep in mind the volunteers are not individuals with experience in road construction, maintenance or repairs, but tried to use common sense and the RSMS as a guide. We found the RSMS to be an amazing tool.”
Hyer presented what he called the “technical geek portion” of the night, which involved a detailed presentation of the RSMS software, which determines what roads need maintenance, rehabilitation or reconstruction. The program also created budget estimates.
The committee used a state database to make recommendations as to what repairs are needed for each section of road. Based on the preliminary results of the assessment, the minimum costs to do the repairs would be between $2.3 million to $4.2 million.
“How deep our pockets are will determine how much we can do each year,” Hyer said.
While the software can gather this information and make cost estimates, human input is needed from the community. Ultimately it’s up to town officials and voters to decide what work gets done.
Otisfield has 26 miles of paved roads and 21 miles of gravel roads. Hyer stated the committee is focused mostly on paved roads. Some roads may be more cost effective to revert to gravel—it costs $13,000 to revert a road back to gravel and $166,000 to repair the same paved road.
Henderson offered residents a guideline to figure out which roads should be improved.
“Can you safely drive over a road at the posted speed limit? Many of our roads don’t meet this test,” he said.
Otisfield Selectman Rick Micklon said money is an issue.
“It’s hard to spend $4 million on a bond when some townspeople can’t pay their taxes,” he said. “It’s gonna be a struggle. … Be lean, mean and prioritize, choose your battles.”
But Heyer stressed the is a multi-year plan. He indicated the committee won’t ask for a $4 million bond, but a more manageable proposal. Herb Olsen, the newest member of the committee, said road improvement is needed.
“I was skeptical, but this is the beginning of letting everybody know what’s going on with the roads in Otisfield. Take it from one who’s just joined, this is something that can be used now and into the future,” he said.
Henderson said he wants to help town roads, not hurt townspeople.
“We want the public to be informed and don’t want to force anything on people that will create more hardship,” Henderson said. ”We’re an ongoing committee and appreciate any feedback both positive and negative.”
There is a lot of work for the committee to do to make sure voters are up to speed before 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Henderson added.
The Road Committee will meet next on Tuesday, Nov. 11, at 9 a.m. in the Town Office at 403 State Road 121. Residents are invited to attend.