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Crossroads for Shelter Island’s infrastructure

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Highway Department workers on St. Mary's Road Monday morning.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Highway Department workers on St. Mary’s Road Monday morning.

A detailed study has given the condition of Shelter Island roads a passing grade.

But another conclusion of the study is that if steps aren’t taken soon to upgrade the 53 miles of town roads, the cost to redeem them when they go wrong could be astronomical.

The state of the roads is at a tipping point now, according to Town Engineer John Cronin, where the fall to markedly poor conditions will be sudden and steep if not dealt with soon.

Mr. Cronin, along with town Engineering Department intern Henry Read — who has worked with Mr. Cronin for the past two summers — gave preliminary results Tuesday to the Town Board from the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) that is being conducted here this summer.

The main function of the CLRP is to store and analyze data and generate reports to assist municipal officials in making cost-effective decisions about roads. It evaluates the condition of roads and the rate of continuing damages, and helps prioritize maintenance strategies.

As Mr. Cronin noted several times — and was echoed by Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. — once data is in black and white, it’s an effective tool to go to other governing bodies to make a case for funding.

The CLRP rates road conditions roughly on a scale of 100 to zero, with the ideal road at the top end and worst road at the bottom. Shelter Island’s average is at 63, Mr. Cronin said, or in the “good” category. But below 60 the roads fall into the “fair” category.

Each $1 of repair work done now will cost $4 to $5 more if the roads are left alone and have to be repaired later, the report indicates. The typical pavement lifespan is about 18 to 20 years, Mr. Cronin said, and Island roads can be expected to deteriorate beyond their useful life before they “can be fully addressed under current budgeting practices.”

It’s not just an Island problem, Mr. Cronin added, but almost every municipality is dealing with infrastructure upgrades, and in fact the U.S. Congress is currently debating how to fund highways.

About 42 percent Island of roads, as mapped by Mr. Read, need “rehabilitation,” which is defined by the CLRP as extensive overlaying, but the base is in relatively good shape. At least 7 percent need “reconstruction,” or removing the base and starting from scratch. Drainage work and repaving is required for about 40 percent of the roads and other places need crack repairs and patching.

The dollar amounts to do the work are daunting. If the Island decided to upgrade the Island’s entire road system in a year’s time, the bill would be $8.7 million.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty said, to laughter, “Do I hear a motion?”

With a highway budget of $163,000 for roadwork, plus another $350,000 in promised state funds,  it’s obvious that priorities have to be outlined, Mr. Cronin said.

One of those should be two miles of South Midway Road, the engineer said, from Smith Street to Lake Drive and Lake Drive to Route 114, which is in “very poor condition.” The estimated cost to completely upgrade these stretches would cost about  $2.4 million.

Realizing that is an impossible figure for the town to come up with, Mr. Cronin said the strategy should be to “carefully find out what is technically wrong” and make decisions on how “to keep it passable” without a complete reconstruction.

“There are things we know we have to do with Midway Road right now with replacing the Dickerson Creek culvert,” Mr. Cronin noted, referring to blockage there that is imperiling a salt marsh.

Mr. Card reiterated that the information provided by the  CLRP is a powerful tool giving “us the case to go now and make that pitch [to the state] that all we want is our fair share of what our motorists and residents are paying at the pump” in gasoline taxes dedicated to road repairs.

A full written report on the CLRP’s findings will be presented to the board and the public next month.

In other business: An application is before the board for a private fireworks show by Grucci to be launched from barge in West Neck harbor at 9 p.m. August 29 to celebrate the birthday of resident Susan Weber.

The event will last about 12 minutes and be less loud than the recent extravaganza at Crescent Beach, said Scott Cooper of Grucci, who presented the plan along with Ms. Weber, to the board.

Police Chief Jim Read said he didn’t anticipate any problems and he’d spoken to Fire Chief Will Anderson who also signed off on the event. Chief Read said a deposit of $10,000 should be made to defer town costs, but most likely only $5,000 would be used and returned to the applicant. Ms. Weber said she’d like to donate the funds not used to the police department, but the chief said it would be more appropriate if the donation went to the fire department, which is an all-volunteer force.

Board members were concerned about giving neighbors a heads up about the show, and Councilman Ed Brown suggested getting in touch with local homeowner’s associations to spread the word.

After the meeting Ms. Weber said she was pleased with the board’s response. Her only regret is that “now everyone knows I’m going to be 60.”