Funding woes hamper road repairs in some areas of Amherst

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 07-26-2023 4:05 PM

AMHERST — Residents who live in the Cushman section of Amherst have delivered a petition to town officials appealing to have deteriorating Flat Hills and Market Hill roads resurfaced, a prospect that is likely to be delayed because of a $2 million price tag and the fact that they are not major corridors for commuters.

At a recent community Cuppa Joe community meeting focused on projects under the Department of Public Works’ jurisdiction, Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Superintendent Guilford Mooring said there are no assurances that Flat Hills and Market Hill will be done soon, in part due to continued funding challenges and other roads being prioritized for the project bids going out this summer.

Bockelman said Amherst has many needs for its roads and sidewalks, and even with an increased allotment of money over the past five years, and $2.9 million set aside in this year’s budget, the town is not making significant headway in its backlog. “It’s still not enough, which is readily apparent to us,” Bockelman said.

An assessment of all town streets is done to create a five-year plan, and Flat Hills Road might be on the list for the next bid, which will be put together in early spring 2024. The DPW was given extra money in 2022, but one project consumed most of the bid. Mooring said that $700,000 went to do parts of Pomeroy and West Pomeroy lanes this year, roads that are more heavily used by commuters, and are on either side of a new roundabout being built using state grant money.

Another challenge this year is Chapter 90 funding from the state not been approved for release by the Legislature, and competition aspects are now included with some state money. Mooring said this means Amherst is losing out on potential funding to better staffed cities that can pursue this money.

Pothole problems

Problems with potholes were also mentioned on other streets, including cul-de-sacs like Jeffrey Lane.

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This is being addressed by a new machine the DPW has bought to fill potholes, replacing one that broke down. But one of the challenges that isn’t going away is getting both more workers and seasonal help. Mooring said the town has just 12 employees and three supervisors for road projects, and has faced competition for hiring from private companies and others.

“We’ve got to find the sweet spot of finding employees,” Mooring said.

While the DPW has two students from Dean Vocational Technical School in Holyoke this summer, both are specializing in electrical work.

Money is the biggest issue for the town, not only in hiring people, but buying better product, such as asphalt or patch.

“Adding staff is a big commitment by the town,” Bockelman said, noting that over the last year Amherst has launched new departments, like the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and hired four firefighter/ paramedics.

Some of the pothole filling, prioritized on the busiest streets, can also be rushed, Mooring said.

With limited funding, Mooring said it’s difficult to fill requests the town often receives for traffic calming after improvements are made to streets. These often include speed humps, which are expensive, he said. For many years, complaints were taken on Bay Road about its poor condition. Resurfaced last year, now complaints come in that vehicles are going too fast.

Heatherstone Road is another street planned for improvements, with a center island to be removed so that a bicycle lane can be placed alongside the road.

Meanwhile, sidewalks on East Pleasant Street from Pine Street to Olympia Drive, and the extensive permitting needed for them, mean the project is not imminent. “It’s a challenging construction,” Bockelman said.

“It’s going to be very expensive, and we’ve got to find out where the money comes from,” he added.

Playing fields

For playing fields, also under the DPW’s oversight, South Amherst resident Maria Kopicki said that Groff Park is a “hot mess” and, before a recent game, players was scooping water off the infield to get it into playable shape.

“The high school is really the only decent field to play on,” Kopicki said.

Mooring said community groups could model themselves after Amherst Baseball Inc., which takes care of the baseball diamonds at Mill River for youth baseball teams.

But Mooring said money is in the budget for adding drainage at Groff Park.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>