Starting immediately, hard data and an innovative new statistical model designed to prioritize community needs and values such as ADA accessibility, transit access, and development of the city’s tree canopy, will guide the paving and sidewalk repair plans of the City of Somerville.
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has announced that the new Neighborhood Street Reconstruction Program, which also takes advantage of significant cost savings offered by a shift to more preventive maintenance, also recommends an increase of approximately $1.5 million in supplemental city funding for roads and sidewalks beyond expected state funding of roughly $1.5 million, as well as an additional $1 million in funding for further ADA improvements.
To form the basis of the model, a team of city engineers worked with engineering consulting firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike last year to survey and document the condition of every public way in the city including 93 miles of roadway, 6.5 million square feet of sidewalks and 3,200 curb ramps. Existing statistical models that evaluate only for road condition and likely rate of deterioration were then expanded to include other ranking priorities including:
• Accessibility needs
• Safety and traffic calming needs
• Preventive maintenance impact
• Economic and environmental sustainability (such as tree canopy needs, lighting quality, opportunities for increased green space, multimodal transit needs, infrastructure improvement needs)
The need for accessibility improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb ramps along a stretch of roadway is doubly weighted in the model to ensure the paving plan prioritizes access for residents of all abilities.
“This approach puts real community needs and priorities out front,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “We’ll be targeting our road plan not just to ensure a smooth driving surface, but roads lined by curb ramps and sidewalks with the greatest need for accessibility improvements will also rise toward the top of the queue. We’ll also factor in other community benefits as well, such as safety needs, the opportunity to improve below-ground infrastructure such as sewer outflow, or to add transit features for all modes of travel such as bike lanes and crosswalks. When we go in to make the roadway better for cars, we’ll also be improving the public way for all of our residents regardless of their mode of travel or abilities.”
Preventive maintenance is also heavily weighted in the plan, and is a key cost saver built into the new approach. Just as painting a home shields a homeowner from the greater cost of replacing rotted exposed wood, earlier and more intensive preventive care of roadways has also been shown to reduce the scale of later costs. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-$14 needed to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly.
“This means residents may be surprised to see us out sealing cracks or putting fine skim coats on roadways that are in relatively good condition. But what we’ll be doing is making sure the road remains well maintained for a longer period,” said City Engineer Robert King. “Think of it as us out there changing the oil on time to make sure the engine doesn’t need to be replaced before its time.”
Residents are still encouraged to report potholes to 311 and any safety concerns to 311 or the Somerville Police Department. The model will be adjusted to respond to emerging safety concerns, and immediate repairs such as potholes will still be made as the need arises. But road repaving and sidewalk improvement plans will now be guided by the Neighborhood Street Reconstruction Program, which will be implemented by a cross-departmental team from Engineering, the Office of Accessibility, and the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development.
“Making the city’s streets safe and accessible to everyone is our top priority, and the cost savings we’ll gain by applying the more effective approach of preventive maintenance will allow us to improve more roads, make more ADA improvements for our residents with disabilities, and address more community needs along our roadways,” said Mayor Curtatone. “This plan allows us to shift from short-term, case-by-case repairs to a rational, data-driven approach that allows us to plan with a larger horizon and for broader community goals.”