Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recycling roads

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to go down Plains Road with Highway Superintendent Mike Nielson, so I could see what a recycled road looks like.

Plains Road was the first one in New Paltz which was resurfaced by a process that allows for the reuse of the existing asphalt on-site.  Reusing materials is nothing new, but typically the road gets ground up and carted away for reprocessing, and ends up on another road elsewhere in the county.  This equipment allows it to be ground down, picked up, melted, and mixed with some new material right there; then it's laid back down and rolled.

Here's Mike, annoyed that I have a camera but explaining how the whole shebang works:

There are limits to this technology.

  • Because of the length of the train, short roads and dead-ends can't be resurfaced like this.
  • If there are deep cracks in the road bed, a full replacement will be needed anyway.  Anything that needs to be ground down more than five or six inches can't be replaced this way.
  • The process leaves the road pebbly, and it still needs to be sealed, which isn't the case with traditional road replacement.
  • Nielson hasn't tested it to see if the results can stand up to our highest-wear roads, like Horsenden. (The fact that we send our truck traffic along that narrow, windy road is another problem entirely.)
I haven't looked at a full cost-benefit analysis, but the benefits to the residents are pretty clear:  a two-week process, including curing, took six hours to complete.  It's also pretty cool to watch:

Making campaign promises is easy.  Fulfilling them, not so much.


Dave said...

The question remains, why was Plains road resurfaced at all? I've heard that it wasn't due for repair, and it was plain to see that it was in fine condition before resurfacing. Why this road instead of one that is actually in disrepair?

Terence said...

I try not to claim to have an answer when I don't, Dave, but it's worth asking. I will be happy to ask and report back next time I see the highway superintendent, or you can call the office at 255-5050. If you do that, please let us know what he tells you.

Martin McPhillips said...

This is an impressive looking process. I hope it numbers out well.

A more important question about Nielson (who has shown he can manage the roadways) is how is he managing his unionized labor costs?

The road maintenance savings that he accomplished over the winter (which you reported on here at Gadfly) were impressive.

Where are the labor (and pension) costs going as a percentage of the highway department budget? I ask because there is a trend in municipalities (see the link below) to trim other operating costs to make room for employment and pension costs, which are growing out of control for many local governments.

These impressive savings could mask, for a time, serious increases for labor.

Terence said...

Labor costs are a serious issue, from both sides of the fence. Municipalities are struggling to control their budgets when many of the costs, such as contributions to the state pension fund and regular increases to salaries, are either completely out of control (if NYS mismanages the pension fund they just demand more from local governments) or decided in previous contract negotiations.

On the other hand, it was only a generation ago that both public and private employees enjoyed real pensions. The fact that the private sector no longer does this is a both a cause of tensions leveled at public employees, and an unanswered question about why that practice fell by the wayside.

Caring for the elderly is something that can't be done piecemeal, such as benefiting public retirees over private ones. We have to address the issue broadly, and with more than just governmental partners, to actually address the problem. Eroding extended families are part of the issue, as well as the need to earn two incomes just to survive when one was more than enough years ago.

Martin McPhillips said...

O.K., but in that speculative riff on policy, I don't see an answer to my question, "Where are the labor (and pension) costs going as a percentage of the highway department budget [under Nielson's management]?"

(You don't necessarily owe me an answer. I just thought you might know, since you've been paying attention to the highway department. And, right, you're a candidate for the county legislature now, so these facts are doubtless at your command.)

Terence said...

My study of county finances yields very little information about how the town spends its money, Martin, but your question is relevant to all levels of government and society so I commented anyway.

Nielson is not much a blogger, so I again suggest you call him at 255-5050. He's got that forthright attitude that comes from not caring if he gets elected or reelected, so I'm sure you'll get the answer you want from him.

Terence said...

The highway superintendent does not negotiate the contract with the employees; that's the town board.