As reliably as potholes re-emerge after a freeze and thaw, the topic of paving Pond Road is back up for discussion as Shelburne town officials build next year’s municipal budget.
Last month, Highway Superintendent Paul Goodrich recommended resurfacing the nearly 2.5-mile dirt road using a “chip-sealing” method that would cost about $350,000.
Pond Road is Shelburne’s only gravel public road.
On Tuesday night, Jan. 7, residents from Pond Road and its adjacent neighborhoods presented the Shelburne Selectboard with an alternative proposal to partially pave approximately 1.5 miles of the road between Dorset Street and Frog’s End, leaving about 1 mile of gravel road to the east.
That would bring the cost down to about $210,000, according to Rad Romeyn, a Pond Road resident who worked on the proposal with neighbors and consulted with town officials.
In his presentation, Romeyn compared Pond Road with a 3-mile stretch of Dorset Street between Cheesefactory Road and Pond Road. He analyzed property values and taxes generated along both roads – $22 million of property along Pond Road paying $357,000 in taxes, and $21 million of property on Dorset Street that generates taxes of $431,000.
“We’re all paying the same level of taxes, but we’re certainly not getting the same level of service,” he said.
Meanwhile Dorset Street is maintained as a paved road that some call it “the Champs-Élysées of Shelburne,” Romeyn said. He described Pond Road as “neglected,” adding that “some call it a donkey track.”
In addition to a lower price tag, the new suggestion also has advantages of the gravel section requiring traffic to slow down and it would address concern for migrating amphibians near Shelburne Pond, residents said.
Selectboard members thanked the group, but the property tax argument fell short.
“You have indeed made an elegant proposal,” said Board Chair Jerry Storey. “The fiscal chance of doing that this year as you know is nil.”
Pond Road runs east-west along the southern tip of Shelburne Pond, connecting Vermont 116 and Dorset Street. With some hills and turns, it cuts across a pastoral and rural landscape.
At the Dec. 17 selectboard meeting to discuss the budget, Goodrich explained that the road is high maintenance requiring frequent grading, adding gravel and spraying chloride to address potholes, ruts and summer dust.
Gerald Rittenberg, who lives on Monarch Road off Pond Road, said the efforts are appreciated but not adequate. “It lasts about a week, maybe two weeks, then it’s bad again,” he said. “I believe the road is extremely dangerous.”
Katharine Stockman, a 15-year Pond Road resident, said she’s had an accident where her car skidded on loose gravel, and she worries about people walking along the road. She said dust that prevents people from opening windows in summertime, too.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful area – one of the prettiest in all of Shelburne,” she said. “But the condition of the road prevents people from being able to enjoy it.”
Some residents say it’s time to think about a longer-term solution to keep the road in good condition. The last time the topic was up for consideration was 2014 when voters on Town Meeting Day rejected by a three-to-one margin a ballot question to spend up to $660,000 to upgrade the road with chip sealing.
Goodrich said that proposal included more prep work than would be needed today and that a more recent estimate put the cost around $350,000. The work would involve a rough paving coat using a mixture of rock and asphalt – similar to a base layer to a fully paved road.
“It’s all we used to use years ago,” Goodrich said, noting that the material would be durable and a significant improvement requiring less maintenance than dirt. He also suggested that the new surface would be an improvement for school buses and emergency vehicles using the road.
Others urged caution citing concern for wildlife, especially migrating amphibians that cross the road in springtime. Susan Moegenburg, a member of the Natural Resources and Conservation Committee, said that research suggests traffic will move faster on a paved road, making it more dangerous for both wildlife and people.
Pointing out a different environmental concern, Town Manager Lee Krohn said he’s seen information that a paved surface would cut down on erosion and sediment going into Shelburne Pond.
At the end of Tuesday’s discussion, Storey said the board could add paving Pond Road to some degree into the town’s capital improvement plan – a list of infrastructure projects that stretches out six years. The soonest it might get funded would be the 2021-22 budget.
Board members encouraged the residents to collect more information to revisit the issue later this year. Moegenburg also offered to work with the neighborhood group to address the wildlife and environmental concerns.