BY NEIL ZAWICKI
Milton Public Works Highway Superintendent Eric Gallas pays special attention to the roads, even when he’s not working.
A simple drive from his home to the grocery store creates a mental catalogue of flaws, cracks, and general issues with the pavement and shoulder of each road. He says it happens every day.
Gallas and his eight employees are responsible for all 101 miles of roadway in Milton. Eleven of those miles are gravel roads. The rest are paved. Each type comes with its own set of problems.
“We get spread thin,” said Gallas. His remark is an accidental pun, considering a major part of his work involves replacing gravel after grading – or even after regular road traffic – and distributing salt to melt ice or sand to add traction.
Making the purchasing choice between gravel or salt or sand is a constant balancing act, and Public Works Director David Allerton sums up the frustration with salt and gravel budgeting when he says, “Whatever it is, it’s not enough.”
Allerton said the yearly cost for road maintenance is just north of $780,000.
“This year was bad for salt,” said Allerton. He goes on to describe to relationship between salt distribution and fuel consumption.
Allerton budgets $180,000 each year for salt, and this last winter he spent $204,000.
That’s 200 tons of salt, which Gallas explains the department can’t keep all of on hand because the shed isn’t big enough.
Gallas keeps around 200 yards of gravel on hand, which town manager Don Turner said costs about $35,000. That’s a mound about 15 feet high and maybe 50 feet around.
One car traveling on a gravel road can displace one ton per mile. Gravel attrition is a real problem.
Welcome to road maintenance country, where Gallas and Allerton spend their days (and nights) wrestling with economic and logistical questions: If we plow the road, it takes some of the gravel away, and we can’t salt a dirt road because it needs to be frozen. Do we make small fixes on high traffic roads or large fixes on low traffic roads? Do we do a quick fix with a cold patch or take the time to create a more permanent fix with a hot patch? A paved road lasts longer, but is more expensive. A gravel road is cheaper but requires more maintenance.
Then there’s the problem with ditching. Roads need drainage at the shoulders to pull water away from them. Ditching a road is an all-hands-on-deck operation, tying up the whole department for a couple of days.
Meanwhile, daily calls and written requests from residents wanting their road fixed keep the department busy. As Gallas puts it, people only pay attention to the road in front of their house, so that pothole, to them, is the single largest problem in the town.
“People need to look at it as a town-wide effort,” said Gallas.
“We get people calling up and calling us names, telling us how stupid we are,” said Allerton. “That can be a stressful part of our day.”
Still, Gallas said, calls from residents help them to be more aware of the problems they need to address.
The main point of contention these days centers on Hardscrabble Road, a stretch of pothole-stricken, cracked asphalt running not quite a mile to a dead end. The residents there have become increasingly more vocal about the need for repairs, and Turner plans to hold a meeting with all of them in the near future to try and explain the challenges that come with fixing such a road.
“I tell them that I would love to just go up and fix their road, but we only have so much money and material,” said Turner. “At least I can involve them in the process and help them to understand what it takes to fix a road.”
Some residents want to just make it a gravel road, something Gallas said he would rather not entertain.
“That road…it’s a tricky road,” said Allerton, before summing up the road situation with, “It’s been a long Spring.”