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City and region to pursue TIGER grant, with help


September 09, 2009
BERLIN — The city is partnering with towns around the region to apply for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, part of the federal stimulus package, which would hopefully give the city $14 million for road construction.

The grant application is being submitted by a company called Roadway Management, based in Florida. The city will pay for a pavement expert who came up in August to catalog the region's road conditions, but otherwise the expenses of applying for the grant will be Roadway Management's.

"I admit to a certain amount of scratching my head as to why they want to do this," said city manager Pat MacQueen. "Nobody's asked us to sign anything. I'm very impressed with the grant writers and the people involved."

The company, which offers pavement management plans for effective pavement maintenance, has not been promised any of the money should the city win the grant. The hope is if the region receives the grant Roadway Management will have the opportunity to bid on the work, according to Dan Patenaude, vice president of the company's New York division.

"We'd like to be involved in some or all of it," he said.

It is in the best interests of Roadway Management to help the region apply for the grant, he said, because if the area doesn't have any money other than tax dollars it is doubtful any of the region's municipalities would be able to contract with the company.

The amount of money the government is giving away for road construction as part of the stimulus package is unprecedented in his 20 year career, Mr. Patenaude said. If Roadway Management can secure a portion of those funds for northern New Hampshire they can bid on the work.

Roadway Management will be no more likely to win a bid because of this effort, both Mr. Patenaude and Mr. MacQueen said. The bid process will run as normal, without favoritism, Mr. MacQueen said.

Joe Kindler, the pavement expert the city hired to assess the road conditions as part of the grant process, rated 52 percent of the city's roads as poor, very poor or failed; 31 percent were in fair condition; 16 percent were in good condition. No roads were in the very good or excellent categories.

The $14 million dollars would be used over two years to bring 96 percent of the roads to excellent. After that, Mr. Kindler suggested Berlin should spend about $600,000 a year to maintain the roads in excellent and very good condition.

Last year the city spent $200,000 on road maintenance.

Public works director Mike Perreault said that was with carryover funds from the previous year. Most years the city has $120,000 allocated to pavement maintenance.

"I don't have enough resources to keep up," he said.

But keeping up is critical, according to Mr. Patenaude, and according to Mr. Kindler's report. If a city starts to fall behind in maintenance, Mr. Patenaude said, the roads wind up needing to be replaced instead of repaired, driving up costs.

Mr. Kindler refers to this as a "worst first" policy, where the worst roads are given first priority at the expense of maintaining the better roads. His report, which was given to the city council in late August, estimates that if the city follows this policy, spending $600,000 a year without ever receiving the TIGER grant, in six years 61 percent of the city's roads will be failing, and 22 percent will be in very poor condition.

These estimates assume the city increases their pavement maintenance budget by $480,000 a year.

Mr. Kindler summarized his report by saying heavy investment up front, followed by preventative maintenance, is the least expensive method of maintaining the roads. Over six years this approach would cost about $16.4 million, where approaches would cost as much as $25 million to bring the roads up to the same condition over the same time period.

Mr. Perreault said he agrees with Mr. Kindler's preventative maintenance ideas, but the funds aren't there.

Mr. MacQueen told the council in late August that the assumption is if the region gets the grant the city will make a commitment to keep up the roads and not let them degrade, which would cost significantly more than city is currently spending. There will be no written commitment on the city's behalf to keep up that level of spending, he said, but there should be a good faith effort to do so.

Councilors decided to move ahead with the project. The grant deadline is September 15.

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