Henry Read parked along the side of Hay Beach Road on a hot day last week as light filtered through a canopy of trees.
Walking the length of the street and back, his eyes scanned the intricacies of the road. But Mr. Read wasn’t just going for a summer stroll, he was working.
Clipboard in hand, clad in a neon orange reflective bib, Mr. Read looks for problems with the road — and there are plenty: “alligator” cracks — the kind that look like reptile scales — longitudinal cracks, pot-holes, general roughness, to name a few. He pointed them out one after another. This was just one stop out of many.
Mr. Read’s job as an intern for Town Engineer John Cronin is to survey each road that belongs to the town of Shelter Island and “prioritize how bad it is and how urgently it needs to be fixed,” he said. A map on his dashboard is highlighted to indicate the roads he’s already visited.
Mr. Read noted that “most problems can be traced back to a weak base.” He pointed out an area where the sandy foundation is exposed, a phenomenon known to civil engineers as “bleeding.” The best possible base for a road is made up of large, angular rocks. A base made of sand is soft and easily retains water, making for an extremely weak support system for the pavement, causing more holes and cracking.
A senior at Manhattan College, Mr. Read has one more semester before he completes his degree in civil engineering. While he grew up on the Island, he wants to work and live in New York City after graduating. He knows he’s a bit of an anomaly among Islanders, preferring city life to the laid-back Island style. Besides, the abundance of civil engineering jobs in the city is ideal for a college graduate.
His internship is a part of what’s called the “Cornell Local Roads Program,” or, specifically, the Cornell Asset Management Program with a focus on roads and streets (CAMP-RS). According to the program’s manual, “The main function of CAMP-RS is to store and analyze data and to generate reports that will assist municipal officials in making cost-effective decisions.” It provides detailed instructions, including pictures to identify specific issues, to evaluate and rate road damage. Once data is entered onto a spreadsheet, the program can then provide several options for repair.
Mr. Cronin, along with Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr., became aware of the program recently and thought it would be in the Island’s best interest to voice concerns about the infrastructure and to take down information as leverage for state and federal funds, because fixing the roads is a matter of money. Mr. Read’s final report can be used to appeal for grants to get money that was taken out of the highway budget so roads can be repaired. The data can show the Town Board what needs to be fixed and how urgently.
Realistically, there won’t be enough of it to truly fix the roads. According to Mr. Read, who said a true fix means completely tearing up the road and replacing the base – a brand new road. The goal, rather, is to get enough funds for patches and seals that temporarily prevents the cracks and holes from expanding and worsening to the point where the road is beyond repair.
These “Bandaids” usually last about two years. According to Mr. Read, these repairs are “reactive, not proactive.” However, it’s most often the best a town budget can do. To get an idea of the issue, temporary fixes cost the town about $1 per square foot while roads beyond repair that need to be completely redone can cost about $5 per square foot, according to Mr. Card. “We don’t want to get to that point,” he added.
But are the Island’s roads really that bad? To the average driver, they may seem like not much of a problem, but the concern is that they can easily become one. Mr. Read, who has surveyed nearly every one of the Island’s roads in the past few weeks, said, “Just about all the roads could be repaired.”
Mr. Card expressed concern that “we don’t have the ability, nor the funds, to do what we need to do.”
Cornell’s program, with Mr. Read’s data collection, provides a chance to get the funding that has been cut, money that many on the ground agree may be necessary to prevent a future infrastructure crisis.