Repair work on Latham Road began in 2017 when approximately 6,300 linear feet from Route 5 to Schoolhouse Hill Road (Phase 1) was rehabilitated. Due to the diversion of funds to the July 2017 flood that washed out roads across Thetford, Phase 1 never received a concrete pavement overlay, which acts as a topcoat that seals out moisture, protecting the road’s structural integrity. As a result, parts of Phase 1 that were rehabilitated in 2017 are now degraded to a condition where they must be redone. Phase 2, another approximately 6,300 linear feet from Schoolhouse Hill Road to Route 113, still needs to be completely rehabilitated and receive an overlay.
In 2020, as the Town was putting together the Route 132 bond proposal, then-Town Manager Guy Scaife received an estimate, excluding engineering services and contingency, of $750,000 for the rehabilitation and overlay on Phases 1 and 2 of Latham Road. Budget strategies were implemented that would have seen the work on Latham Road completed in 2021. However, plans changed when the Route 132 bond was issued six months early. In addition, new leadership in Town Hall saw priorities shift.
As of May 4th, 2022, the estimated cost to repair Latham Road is now just over $1 million. With engineering services and a 10% project contingency added on top, the total estimated cost is now $1,320,378. Town Manager Bryan Gazda emailed the Selectboard in early May explaining that part of the increase is due to “a more comprehensive scope of work for the Phase 2 section to include underdrain and full road construction with fabric for those sections of road that are severely degraded.” Further degradation to Phase 1 repairs is also responsible for some of the cost increases.
The Town is expecting $200,000 from VTrans to support the work, contingent upon state budget approval. Chris Bump, VTrans District 4 Project Manager, informed the Town that the project may be required to undergo an environmental review due to the proposed ditching and cross-culvert work.
Gazda, however, is trying to get the project out to bid as soon as possible, even though an environmental review has still not been completed and could impact parameters of the project. “Not getting this project done this year will not bode well for Latham Road residents nor with the Selectboard,” Gazda wrote to Rito Seto, the engineer at TRORC.
Gazda was discussing another hiccup in the project’s scope of work — Culvert #3, a 5-foot diameter culvert that is part of Phase 2. According to Stantec, the Town’s engineering contractor, Culvert #3 is in “fair” condition but will need to be replaced in 3 to 5 years. Stantec had advised replacing the culvert before the rehabilitation of Phase 2 to avoid digging up a brand new road in a few years’ time.
“I fully understand that replacing the culvert while the road work is being done makes sense, but I have to consider additional costs,“ Gazda wrote to Stantec and Seto. Culvert #3 is not included in the $1.3 million proposed scope of work currently going out to bid.
Gazda reported that neither he nor Stantac had an answer when asked what the cost estimate for replacing Culvert #3 would be. “I don’t believe we have done a formal estimate” Gazda reported Stantec as saying.
Culvert #3 is properly sized, according to a hydraulic assessment that in general analyzes whether a culvert can pass storm water without overtopping the road or violating regulations. That means that a new culvert would not need to be larger than the one currently there. Stantec proposed a possible solution to address Culvert #3’s degrading condition while also excluding it from Latham Road’s current scope of work: insert a smaller culvert and fill the void between the two with cement. This is known as slip lining.
“Slip Lining is a trenchless method used to build a new channel of lesser diameter within an existing channel. The process is completed by inserting a new, smaller piece of pipe into the larger piece… Once the liner pipe is installed, a cellular grout is pumped into the annulus between the new pipe and the host pipe. This cellular grout is cement slurry that fills any existing voids or washouts in or around the existing culvert.”
Stantec believes this work on Culvert #3 could be bundled with 8 other similar culverts around town that could also be candidates for slip lining, assuming they are all properly sized. With the economy of scale, the estimated cost might be approximately $25,000 per culvert, or $225,000 total. This is the plan Gazda is moving forward with. However, there are no hydraulic assessments for the 8 other proposed culverts. That means it is unknown if the plan will work. If any of the culverts need to be upsized, it starts to fall apart. And there isn’t time to figure it out. Seto told Gazda in February that “VTrans is extremely backed up on hydraulic requests.”
While it’s possible Latham Road will need to be dug up in 3 to 5 years, the Town still needs to find $1.3 million this year to complete the desired scope of work. Gazda’s plan is to pull funds from several sources: the Town’s Paving Fund; the DPW Fund Balance; the Route 132 bond; and $200,000 from VTrans. However, the Town would still come up short, especially since overlayment estimates to complete Route 132 have increased since last year. “One option would be to allocate ARPA funds to complete it,” Gazda wrote to the Selectboard over email.
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are once-in-a-generation monies distributed to municipalities and counties across the US. Thetford will receive a $264,965 total municipal allocation plus $491,617 from its county allocation. Rep. Tim Briglin advocated for a public forum during the 2022 virtual Town Meeting to discuss the use of these targeted funds, highlighting how potentially impactful they could be to Thetford, and Gazda indicated such a forum would take place. At least one resident asked about using the funds to support childcare in Thetford. However, it could be that Town leaders decide, with little or no public input, that repairing Latham Road is a higher priority.
When asked how considerations for the expanded scope of work for Latham Road and Culvert #3 (plus 8 other culverts around town) would impact the budget and tax rate in the coming year, Gazda replied, “At this stage it is premature to speculate.”
The Town still has no capital plan for road improvements, “... a road capital plan is a project I will work on this year,” Gazda wrote.