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Mon Valley communities struggle with road issues

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Saturday, May 3, 2014, 1:46 a.m.

To pave or patch temporarily?

That is the question on municipal leaders' minds this time of year. Paving season usually runs from April through December.

Dave Gilliland of Glenn Engineering, whose firm provides services for several local towns, said communities have various approaches when determining paving projects.

“In some towns, they just leave it up to us to let them know what streets we think need paved,” Gilliland said. “In some towns, council tells us what streets they want to pave. In several towns, we've done surveys on all the streets, and produced a report that says this is the order in which they need paved. Then you just chew away at the list.”

Common considerations when identifying roads in need of repair or repaving are potholes, cracks, craters, drainage systems, the asphalt's age, bumps and uneven surfaces and traffic.

“The worst condition gets done first,” Gilliland said.

“There are probably other factors (such as) how many catch basins need to be repaired on the road,” North Versailles Township street foreman Jim Bivins said. “There are a few other things you would look at.”

Bivins' crews patched potholes on a few streets on Friday because they were in bad shape and couldn't wait for paving.

Once a list of streets is compiled and prioritized, elected officials vote to approve it.

Gilliland explained the length of time it takes to produce a paving list depends on the size of the town and available funds.

Projects that cost $19,000 or more are advertised for public bid, he said. There are no limits on how many bids a town can receive, but at least one is required for the project to move forward.

Leaders then open the bids and either select the lowest responsible bidder or reject them all and readvertise. The proposed project can be altered to remove roads and save money prior to final approval.

Paving usually begins within weeks of a bid being accepted and approved.

Weather is a huge factor when it comes to paving, according to Gilliland. Projects can stall because of rain, snow and cold weather. Temperature needs to be at least 40 degrees in order to pave a road.

A paved road is supposed to last for at least 10 years before major problems arise, but harsh winters can speed up the erosion process, he said.

Some towns use microsurfacing or a thin layer of a tar and sand mix to seal cracks and extend the life of pavement between projects.

There are almost 4.1 million miles of public roads in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association reports more than 1.3 million miles are unpaved and about 1.8 million miles are paved local roads for which the Federal Highway Administration does not track pavement type.

Nationwide, capital spending on highways, roads and bridges by all levels of government totals about $80 billion annually, with about half coming from federal funds.

One way Mon Valley municipalities receive federal money for paving is through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those dollars are allocated locally through Allegheny County's Department of Community and Economic Development in the form of Community Development Block Grants.

Communities usually apply for those grants via councils of governments.

Steel Valley COG executive director An Lewis said HUD money must be used to benefit residents with low to moderate incomes. For street paving projects, municipalities or their engineers conduct surveys to verify income, and county officials review the applications.

Lewis said the federal government has consistently reduced the budget of the CDBG program significantly in recent years, resulting in less roads and length of streets being paved.

Lewis said Steel Valley COG puts the CDBG funds it receives into a COG-wide budget, and its communities receive their allocation based on the percentage of dues paid to the COG.

“There's very little grant funding available for street repaving right now,” Lewis said.

McKeesport and Penn Hills get money directly from HUD and do not need to go through Allegheny County.

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said his city has approximately $30,000 to $50,000 available for paving this year due to its focus on eliminating blight and demolishing abandoned properties.

“There will be paving, but it will be limited,” Cherepko said. “It's trying to do what's in the best interest of the city and most efficient. Getting the biggest bang for your dollar.”

City public works director Steve Kondrosky said Cherepko drives throughout the town, fields complaints from residents and decides which streets need repaved.

“All the streets that are done are all through the mayor's office. He's the decision maker,” Kondrosky said.

Cherepko said some streets, such as Tulip Drive, are paved in emergency situations or out of necessity even if it's not in the budget.

“It's pretty much the same strategy throughout the city, trying to be as efficient as you possibly can with the limited funds available,” Cherepko said. “Obviously you have complaints that come in, and we keep track of all the complaints ... We do address those immediately.”

Other ways municipalities can seek additional money for paving include Allegheny County's Community Infrastructure & Tourism Fund, a bond issue or a loan.

North Versailles Township borrowed $3.2 million for a massive paving project last year.

Between 30 and 40 streets of the township's 54 miles of roads were scheduled to be paved. The harsh winter postponed some of the work, which will be completed this year.

Crews from El Grande Industries will work on Arlene Drive and move onto streets in the Fair Haven neighborhood sometime this month.

Other streets on North Versailles' list include DiChicco, Mary Ellen and Bach drives, Brady Street, Tillman Extension, Denning and New Denning ways, and Reiss Lane.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or



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