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Residents seek clarity on Schenectady's street paving schedules

Residents seek clarity on Schenectady's street paving schedules

Questions raised in wake of new neighborhood sidewalk program
Residents seek clarity on Schenectady's street paving schedules
Bette Salisbury in front of one of the many pot holes in front of her of Decamp Avenue home in Schenectady.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY — With the city's new sidewalk replacement program now approved, residents are seeking clarity on how the initiative syncs up with the city’s paving schedule

The sidewalks on Canton Street are “abominable," said John Simms, who commended officials for proposing a solution. 

But the roads are even worse.

"Our street is disintegrating,” Simms told the City Council this past week.

Schenectady United Neighborhoods President Laurie Bacheldor, who lives on Decamp Avenue, was even more blunt.

“Our street is a disaster,” Bacheldor said.

A visit Wednesday to the Central Park neighborhood revealed an uneven surface riddled with craters, patches and patches. 

Bacheldor said she’s been asking city officials for a paving schedule for three years.

Like other residents who addressed council members, Bacheldor asked officials to consider coordinating sidewalk improvements and paving plans at the same time. 

“Please keep the two issues together,” Bacheldor said. 

HOW UGLY’

Lawmakers this past week ultimately voted to authorize the new sidewalk program, which allows neighborhoods to create sidewalk improvement districts if 75 percent of property owners sign petitions in favor of doing so.

The city would oversee replacement of the sidewalks, borrowing the money and fronting the cost of repairs.

A city-issued guidance document listed early cost estimates ranging from $2,700 to $2,959 per 50-feet of sidewalk, with numbers fluctuating depending on interest rates and the payback period.

DeCamp Avenue resident Bette Salisbury collected about 40 signatures from residents protesting street conditions and submitted the results to the city clerk’s office. 

“We go inside our homes and say, ‘Look how beautiful,’” Salisbury said. “We look out the window and say, ‘How ugly.’”

She noted other streets nearby had recently been paved — including Wright Avenue, which runs parallel to DeCamp — and wanted to know why. 

The lack of communication gives birth to peculiar theories, Salisbury said. 

“Why was our street just skipped over?” Salisbury said. “We’re just kind of baffled at what’s going on — there’s no communication from the city and there’s no enforcement from City Hall.”

PROGRAM REFORMED

The city engineering department coordinates paving. 

This year’s paving budget is $2.5 million, which is typically broken down into a $1 million local share, $1 million in Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program funding and between $250,000 and $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

The city previously paved a portion of each ward annually in order to ensure projects were evenly dispersed throughout the city, said City Engineer Chris Wallin. 

Wallin scrapped the system upon taking office in 2012, deeming it inefficient.

Not only did contractors have to shuttle heavy equipment and work crews around the city, Wallin said, but the system was disruptive to residents. 

Wallin implemented the current model in which 80 percent of paving resources are deployed in one of three districts annually, with the remaining 20 percent allocated for as-needed work

The reformed system offers more competitive pricing and allows the city to concentrate on contiguous streets or longer stretches, said Wallin, like the recent effort that saw roughly half of Albany Street refurbished.

‘NOT BLIND’

Wallin said he’s aware of resident concerns.

“We’re not blind to it, but we’re also trying to be more efficient,” he said.

The focus this year will be downtown along State Street and “hill streets.” 

More details will come into focus once the snow melts as a result of the springtime thaw, Wallin said.

“We’ll sit and discuss which streets really suffered this winter,” Wallin said.

Community feedback is important, he said, and also plays a role in determining paving schedules. 

For instance, Wallin said he was informed by Capital District Transit Authority that buses are having trouble navigating Fuller Street owing to deterioration.

And he pointed at the recent repaving of a path in Vale Cemetery ahead of the Stockade-athon after receiving feedback about public safety concerns. 

The city also attempts to coordinate with National Grid, following their construction schedule to minimize disruptions, as well as concentrates attention on the city’s entrances, which serve as first impressions for visitors. 

THINKING AHEAD

City council members broadly agreed this past week that coordination between the sidewalk program and paving schedule is necessary, but stopped short of proposing any action. 

Wallin said the synchronization largely depends on whether the sidewalk curb is integrated with the pavement. 

Future projects may require roadwork, he said.

“We’ll evaluate the project and see if it needs to be a larger project,” Wallin said. 

He lives on DeCamp Avenue and is familiar with his neighbors' concerns. 

The sidewalks are integrated, which means roadwork will be necessary. 

And that’s part of the reason why he has held off repaving the street, so that the projects can ultimately be coordinated and any future sidewalk work won’t mar a freshly-paved surface with cuts and other disfiguring characteristics. 

“I wanted to think ahead,” he said.

Wallin added the city uses bonded funds to pave streets. As such, the city prefers those projects have a 10-year minimum lifespan.

As such, paving a street only to later redo the work following sidewalk repairs runs counter to that.

“You just can’t put bonded money into things without a 10-year use,” Wallin said.

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