Our Opinion: Banishing chip seal comes with a cost

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Residents are quick to complain to city government when municipal services fail to live up to their expectations. The only time they raise their voices higher is when that same city government imposes a property tax hike to pay the ever-increasing costs of those same services. Such is the case in Pittsfield, where a substantial group of homeowners became so enraged about the chip-sealing of their neighborhood streets that they threatened to park their cars to block road crews from applying the treatment, recalling the revolutionary street barricades of "Les Miserables." (Eagle, May 10).

Residents have reasons to be miffed. Chip seal creates a mess that can require hours of power-brooming by residents who care about their neighborhood's appearance to dislodge from lawns and get off sidewalks. Pushed back into the roads, the unsightly rubble remains there. Their voices were heard at Tuesday's City Council meeting ("Council calls it quits on chip sealing," Eagle, May 10).

Nobody likes chip seal. Its only selling point is its lower cost, which is a considerable selling point.

"We actually do more than the basic chip seal," David Turocy, Pittsfield's public services commissioner told The Eagle Thursday. "We first add a layer of shimcourse to improve the structural base. It ends up being half the cost (of paving) and lasting three-quarters as long." Pittsfield's enhanced chip-sealing lasts an average of 10 to 12 years, while full paving lasts about 15 years. The math is inescapable.

With 180 miles of city roads to keep safe and passable, Mr. Turocy must perform a careful balancing act to use the less-durable and cheaper chip seal where it will do the most good — on residential streets that experience little through traffic. Much as that might anger a resident on a chip-sealed street, far more drivers would be inconvenienced if the surface were used on a major artery like Merrill Road, for example.

What generates the most disgruntlement is when the city has just enough money in the budget to pay for paving a few residential streets, while others get chip-sealed. This is a case of stretching available resources as far as they can go, rather than ignoring a particular neighborhood or favoring another. Considering the dire condition of Pittsfield's finances Ward 6 Councilor John Krol's comment that "the people of Pittsfield deserve better than this product" is only accurate if they are willing to pay for it.

City councilors voted 7-4 to pass a non-binding citizen's petition to halt chip-sealing, which will please residents. However, the harsh realities of tight budgets and necessary road repairs remain.


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