After years of promises, state to fix crumbling Route 11 in 2019

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A little over a month ago, 911 dispatchers received a call about an eastbound tractor trailer that was “all over the road” on Route 11 west of Chester.  When Chester Police Det. Andy Brothers stopped the truck, the driver of the rig explained that he “was trying to avoid the potholes.” Brothers sent the driver on his way and noted that the road is  “very rough, cracked, full of pot holes and in need of repair.”

Anyone traveling Route 11 between Londonderry and Chester over the last 10 years can relate. It’s not that the state has been ignoring the road. It has been patching it but patches are only temporary. Now, after years of promises and complaints it looks like a project to fix the road may finally be in the works.

The latest complaint, dated March 13, was sent to Gov. Phil Scott by Andover Select Board chair Red Johnson, who demanded that the Londonderry-Chester segment of Route 11  be made a top priority for repair and paving.

A propane truck brakes as it enters a bad section of Route 11 in Chester. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Johnson wrote that that section  “is in the worst condition of any State road we have traveled … the surface of the road is unsafe and barely passable in many places.”

Pointing out that Route 11 is one of the few east/west highways in the state and a major route for tourists and petroleum shipments from the Port of Albany, Johnson wrote, “Needless to say, this is a major safety hazard.” He noted that several times over the past three years, state officials have told the town that the road would be repaired. It’s never happened and they feel misled Johnson said in an interview.

In September of last year, citing constituent complaints and the road’s long history of problems, Londonderry state Rep. Oliver Olsen sent the Agency of Transportation a no-holds-barred demand for answers.  Olsen echoed Johnson in saying that he and local government officials had been told that paving would be done by specific dates, only to have it rescinded.

“At various points we have been told that there would be paving this summer, then told it wouldn’t happen (with blame placed on the RPC [Regional Planning Council] ), then was told that there was a major capital improvement plan in place for FY18, then told that there was no such plan, then told that some paving ‘might’ happen this summer… I could go on and on,”  Olsen wrote in a letter to then-AOT Secretary Chris Cole.

In his reply, Cole acknowledged the “misinformation” given to the affected communities and cited variations in state funding levels for the changes in work and schedules. “We have had downgrades in State Transportation Funding every six months for the last couple of years  and we have more projects in our program than available revenues,” wrote Cole, noting “… Ive encouraged our staff … to set realistic expectations for project delivery so we avoid disappointing customers by giving them a date that then changes.”

Route 11 is an east/west corridor for commercial traffic including gasoline tankers. Wikipedia/Chinissai.

While Route 11 was looked at as part of a Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, it did not qualify for storm related funding. Since then, it has not been put on the agencys capital program list that is presented to the local regional planning commissions each year for prioritization.

According to Jesse Devlin, who works in Highway Safety & Design with AOTs Project Delivery Bureau, projects get on the program list through an “asset management” process that involves a vehicle filled with sophisticated instruments that drives state highways to record information on their conditions. That information is used by a computer program that recommends the projects that will get the agency the most for its money. As such, the program can ignore a road that is in worse condition than others because it doesnt offer the biggest “bang for the buck.”  And for the past few years, Route 11 has fallen in that category.

Reclamation of Route 11 on front burner

Then suddenly this year, for the first time in recent memory, the AOT computer spit out a project to “reclaim” the stretch of Route 11 from downtown Londonderry to Lovers Lane in Chester. The project now sits in the agencys capital budget request currently in front of the legislature. And on Monday the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission recommended that project as the No. 1 paving priority in its area.

A truck driver swerved along Route 11 to avoid the potholes.

“Reclamation is a real fix for the road,” said Devlin, adding that that process involves removing the surfacing, correcting the roadbed and addressing issues like drainage and shoulders. The drawback is that building what amounts to a “new road” will involve more design time than simply paving it over but the reclaimed road should perform better and last longer.

Devlin said the work done by FHA after Irene gives the state a leg up on engineering.  “And design work starts now, so if there are no holdups or red flags construction would start in the summer of 2019,” said Devlin.

Asked if anything could be done in the meantime, Devlin said that a “leveling course” could be put down, but it has a short life. He added that the leveling course would improve conditions but he did not believe that that would change the priority of the reclamation work.

Olsen said the agency has a challenge. The a leveling course make things better for a couple of years but then be torn up in 2019. “They don’t want to throw good money after bad,” said Olsen. “So they have to do whatever they can to keep 11 safe until work can begin.”

AOT Chief Engineer Kevin Marshia told The Telegraph on Tuesday that the agency will do what’s necessary to make the road safe. “Our commitment is to maintain the road with the limited resources we have until the reclamation project comes along,” said Marshia. “We have between 300 and 400 miles of road in very poor condition and these are more difficult for our crews to maintain. You can fill a pothole one day, have a rain event and have the patch pop out the next week.”

Marshia said that the transportation agency would look for opportunities to improve the road including further patching and shim coating small portions of the worst areas until 2019.

Olsen pointed out that all of this relies on the legislature passing the AOT budget.

Area leaders remain skeptical that the work will be done.

“Three years ago, we were told ‘Yep, we’re going to do it.’ Then they said ‘next year’ and then it was another year,” Johnson told The Telegraph. “You rely on the word of the people you’re speaking with, but after three years of being misled, you stop.”

Johnson said he would wait a little while longer to see what happens, but he and the Andover Select Board need to see something soon.

Calls to Gov. Phil Scott’s office for comment were not returned.

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  1. Dennis Rounds says:

    New taxes are not the answer to fixing Rt 11. We pay enough in taxes as it is. How about we reduce the size of our bloated government? There is plenty of money out there to fix our roads. We need the government to stop finding new ways to waste our money and fix the roads, so the people who are actually paying the taxes can get to work safely and not destroy their vehicles trying to do so.

  2. What about taxing those darn houses? I saw at least six of them heading east this morning before 9 a.m.
    I don’t know about the rest of the day.

  3. Bill says:

    I’m sure if the governor had to drive that road to work everyday, the transportation commissioner would not be saying, “No problem, Gov. Scott, we going to fix that in 2019! Only about 2 & 1/2 years more and it’ll be done!”

    That is a major east/west route and it’s incredible that nothing is happening. It’s dangerous and not very kind to cars and trucks either. Why not a small rise in the gas tax of 10 cents or so now that gas prices have come down from a high of $3.50 to the $2.20 range?

    I don’t think many would complain about getting our crumbling roads and bridges repaired.

  4. I can’t believe RT 11 won’t be done until 2019. Seriously? With all the heavy traffic, like pre-fab houses and tanker trucks weaving all over the road to avoid potholes, everyone using the road is in danger. Also my house shakes because of the big rigs hitting the holes, it can be unnerving at times.