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Laying it down

Paving a state highway is an intricate operation for construction crews

TOWNSHEND— The logistics of road resurfacing are as precise as a recipe and nearly as epic as a military invasion.

One day last week, during a short break on the Newfane-Townshend Route 30 resurfacing project, Terry Dixon, paving foreman for contractor Lane Construction of Cheshire, Conn., pointed this out.

Dixon said that nine men and 16 machines — one paver, one rubber tire roller, two steel drum rollers and 12 trucks carrying about 1,600 tons of asphalt — first made the road surface level and then laid down the first layer of pavement on a two-mile-or-so stretch of Route 30, west of Townshend village.

A little less than half of the asphalt was used for shimming, or filling in tread depressions, and the rest was used to pave the next-to-last surface of the road.

The final pavement operation will happen in late summer and early fall. That’s when the traffic really slows down, warns Ronald Stancliff, a civil engineer consultant for the state Agency of Transportation.

Each time a truck dumped a load of asphalt into the paver, weight slips were exchanged between Dixon and, in this case, Stancliff.

Before the second and final asphalt layer goes down, the surface must be striped with white and yellow lines. The sides must be ditched and partially covered with rocks, or seeded, fertilized and scattered with limestone and then covered in erosion matting, a straw-like runner to promote grass growth.

Twenty thousand feet of new guardrails must be installed, Stancliff said, and most of the so-called “handwork” must be done at the edges of the road and to the 200-plus private driveways that mark the 11.5 miles of the project.

Also in place on most days, as they were on this day, are sheriff’s deputies (paid by the contractor, according to Dixon), in their blue-light cruisers, and flaggers (although they don’t have flags, just “stop” and “slow” signs), making sure the one-lane road operation safely shimmies traffic from one single-lane side to the other.

The resurfacing project begins at 1.6 miles north of the Dummerston-Newfane town line and ends at the Townshend-Jamaica town line.

Different stretches of road require different techniques: some portions have surfaces ground down (scarified), especially in town centers, so that the ideal total of additional height, about three inches, doesn’t loom above adjacent surfaces, such as curbs.

Also, the height of the finished road has to be correctly calibrated so the new guardrails fit properly.

For any of this to happen successfully, detailed plans are drawn up and negotiated well in advance, so the state and Lane can order the accurate tonnage from its Northfield, Mass., batch plant, and also to make sure the proper equipment is in place.

The interior hub of the Newfane/Townshend project, a temporary trailer parked at the corner of Route 30 and State Forest Road, looks  like the field office for any project moving dozens of men and heavy machines.

The space is divided into a couple of rooms, and the table tops are covered with computers, maps and thick books of plans.

Part of Stimulus

The project is one of about 73 such transportation jobs that suddenly came to life when $126 million of federal stimulus money became available.

Lenny LeBlanc, director of financial administration at the Agency of Transportation, reported that $46 million of the total stimulus grant went to highways and bridges.

“The single largest project was $8 million for a section of Interstate 89 from Royalton to Bethel,” he said.

“The Newfane-Townshend paving project is being constructed with 100 percent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act transportation stimulus funds,” said Kevin S. Marshia, AOT highway safety and design program manager. “The total projects costs are estimated to be approximately $4.4 million,” he added.

It’s next to impossible to calculate the number of new people hired and retained, which according to AOT’s website (aot.state.vt.us) is one of the goals of the stimulus program. The project put a lot of people to work, and some of them are new hires, who may or may not stay on.

The crew in place for this project is mostly local, Dixon said, and they go home at night.

“But we eat lunch on the job,” he emphasized.

Stancliff, who now works for a construction company that consults with the state, points out that he retired eight years ago from the AOT, where he worked for 39 years, “but I’m still doing it.” 

He has a million tales to tell:  “Once, the new West River Bridge in Brattleboro — maybe 25 years ago — nearly fell over because we didn’t follow our own plans for removal of the old bridge,” he recalled.  “It tilted but, fortunately, didn’t fall.”

Stancliff has an encyclopedia of highway law and lore in his head and can speak off the cuff, for example, about the abstruse laws governing rights-of-way and what land belongs to the state and what doesn’t (24 feet, 9 inches from the center line of the road is the state’s right-of-way limit).  Beyond that, negotiations take place.

He can recite chapter and verse of slope and erosion proclivities.  He also pointed out that resurfacing requires additional equipment like machine sweepers and excavators. 

And he notes that the project’s state supervisor, or resident engineer, is Fred Ross.  “We all work for him.”

The estimated duration of the Newfane-Townshend project is 125 days. It began June 1 and is due to finish almost in time for the leaf peepers.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #57 (Wednesday, July 7, 2010).

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