In a March 18 editorial, we asked “What is Schenectady going to do about its roads?” At the time, they were in pitiful shape, full of potholes, cracks and bumps, and fast getting worse. Today, there’s a noticeable improvement.
We don’t take credit for this, especially since none of our proposed remedies included the one that has made the difference. Most of the credit must go to City Engineer Paul Cassillo, the man who recommended a new, cheaper approach that allows the city to repave more roads. The rest of the credit goes to Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy and the City Council, who supported him and gave him the money to make it happen.
For years Schenectady has starved its road maintenance fund and let its roads deteriorate, repaving only a few miles (out of the 145 total paved miles) per year. The main reason was the city’s budget problems and hesitancy to raise taxes, but a compounding factor was its ill-advised policy of putting in expensive granite curbs and concrete sidewalks every time it repaved a road. Schenectady is a walkable city, and the city should encourage and even help homeowners to fix their sidewalks (which are their legal responsibility). But it can’t afford to redo everyone’s, including those that are in decent shape — especially when it is done instead of fixing roads.
Cassillo has been stressing the importance of road repair since 2009, when he returned as city engineer (he held that position from 1980 until 1992), and trying to get more money for it. But he knew he couldn’t get nearly enough to catch up on all that deferred maintenance. So he had to find a way to fix as many roads as he could as fast as he could — even if it meant something less ambitious, and long lasting, than a total repaving job.
That way was a process he was familiar with from his time as engineer in Dutchess County, and Schenectady County is now using for some of its roads: not going down all the way to the base of the road, but superheating the asphalt and smoothing it while adding oil to re-establish its flexibility and keep it from cracking.
This is much quicker and cheaper, allowing the city to repave far more miles of road than it had been doing (about eight or 10 miles this year, compared to 1.5 to two miles in recent years). Cassillo was even able to get a better deal by piggybacking on the county’s contract.
The city started the new process in mid-July, focusing on the main streets, which get the most use and were in the worst shape. Motorists, who had been angry and despairing about the condition of the roads, have noticed the improvement, appreciate it and are heartened by it. They are willing to wait for more roads to be done — as long as they know there is a plan and all will eventually be done.
Here’s an example of a manager recognizing a serious problem and coming up with a solution — and, crucially, getting the support and resources he needed from elected officials willing to change priorities. Sometimes government gets it right.