Schenectady County

Debt load forces Schenectady to scale back street paving program

After two years of paving, Mayor Gary McCarthy is reluctantly downsizing his much-praised efforts to

After two years of paving, Mayor Gary McCarthy is reluctantly downsizing his much-praised efforts to fix the city’s streets.

The city will not borrow any money in next year’s capital budget to pave streets. The city’s debt payments are simply too high to add more debt next year.

But McCarthy said the program has already been a success because so many of the city’s pothole-filled streets have been repaved.

“We’ve caught up with the worst of the worst,” he said.

But the city has a list of about 15 more miles of heavily traveled roads in need of urgent repaving. They are listed as being in “poor condition.”

Some of them will get done next year. The city will continue to pave the streets with funding from federal and state grants.

“It will continue our program,” McCarthy said.

The city will be able to use a small amount of money from the federal Community Development Block Grant for paving. That money will be used to continue the hot recycling program, the new paving process in which machines heat up the existing pavement, mix in new oil to restore its flexibility, smooth down the new surface and cover it with a fresh layer.

The process has allowed the city to repave, in just two years, nearly 20 miles of the worst main roads in Schenectady. It is far cheaper and faster than rebuilding a road from the base up.

But the state won’t let the city use funding from its Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, to do hot recycling. To use CHIPS money, the process must be certified to last 10 years, and that’s still up for debate with hot recycling.

“All the engineers tell me the real issue is the base,” McCarthy said. “If you have a good base but you’re getting surface deterioration and you do hot recycling, you’re getting a road that’s almost brand new. You could get 20 years out of it.”

But if the base is already damaged, hot recycling won’t last nearly as long.

In Schenectady, roads have been prioritized based on the amount of usage they get and their level of damage. Those without base damage have been largely repaired with hot recycling. The others have been placed on a separate list, so they can be rebuilt with CHIPS funds or other grants.

CDBG funds are limited to “targeted” areas of low-income residents, which in the past limited paving to the Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhoods. But the latest Census figures have changed that.

“Pretty much the whole city is ‘targeted,’ ” McCarthy said.

The city won’t know how much money it will get for paving until the middle of 2013. The CHIPS fund will be decided in the state budget next spring, and the city can start to spend the CDBG funds starting July 1.

In past years, the city has received about $900,000 in CHIPS funds. Rebuilding a road from the base up can cost $200,000 per block, so that money might pave only a half-mile.

By comparison, the city was able to pave 10 miles of roads last year for $1.6 million using hot recycling.

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