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Union paves the way

By Christine Simmonds | Nov 12, 2020
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Union discusses paving roads at a workshop held over Zoom Nov.10.

Union — Union Town Manager Jay Feyler said the town was working toward pavement of all dirt roads, unless a majority of residents on that road do not want it paved.

Feyler presented this during a Board of Selectmen Workshop on town roads, held over Zoom Nov. 10. He said paving the dirt roads was a mandate from the Board of Selectmen when Feyler was first employed by the town in 2009.

The mandate directed Feyler to begin the process of paving dirt roads, beginning with smaller ones and working toward the longer ones.

Since that time, Feyler said he was working toward that goal. Some roads, such as Rabbit Farm Road and Cole Road, have already been turned from dirt to pavement.

When it is time for the next dirt road to be paved, Feyler said he sends letters to the residents of the road informing them of the action.

If a majority of the residents on that road respond that they do not want the road paved, Feyler said it becomes an issue that comes before the Board of Selectmen.

“It becomes a political issue at that time, and that’s your job,” he said to Chairman John Shepard.

Feyler added that he understood there can be an attitude among other residents that if people build a house on a dirt road, they have to deal with the consequences of the decision. However, he added, the town cannot get fire trucks or ambulances down dirt roads that are not properly maintained.

Board member Adam Fuller agreed that people who build houses on dirt roads understand the situation they have moved into, but said “Union is a growing and changing place.”

Fuller said many people may have moved to these roads with the expectation that eventually it would be paved and developed. “I think that’s a normal expectation people have,” he said. “I don’t think many people move onto a little dirt road and expect it to be a dirt road forever. That’s just not the nature of the beast.”

Board member Josh White expressed a slightly different opinion.

White said that frequently, towns surrounding Union develop to a point where people who work there cannot afford to live there. People move to a dirt road because sometimes is the home or tax bracket they can afford.

White expressed concern that paving these roads would cause property taxes to suddenly increase so residents could not afford their homes.

Fuller said while he did agree gentrification was a problem, people likely understand their dirt road would eventually be paved. He added that many residents may be wondering why they pay so much in taxes when they are unable to drive down their road in a storm. “We can’t just tell them the road will never be paved,” he said.

Feyler said a paved road would make a difference in the value of a house, but he could not give exact numbers.

Paving the dirt roads in Union was also a matter of saving the town money. “We spend about $100K on dirt roads each year,” Feyler pointed out.

In the years since he started working for the town, Feyler said there were three storms that caused major damage to dirt roads. Townsend Lane required $26,000 of repairs. Coggins Hill required $126,000 in repairs and repairs to Sidelinger cost $37,000.

Taking inflation into account, Feyler said those figures would be $40,000, $190,000 and $47,000 today.

Feyler said those costs did not reflect the total cost of labor, and would not have been incurred if the roads were paved.

Board member Martha Johnston-Nash asked about how roads would become town property. “Do we have standards for what there has to be for the town to take over a road?” she asked.

Feyler said there are standards a road must meet, like drainage, for the town to take ownership. Once they meet that criteria, the town must accept the road during a Town Meeting vote.

Feyler also reviewed the Union Common, which needs work including new pavement and new parking lines. One resident also has chronic flooding in his basement due to the condition of the pavement at Union Common.

Feyler said the town would likely work with the Maine Department of Transportation for those projects, because some of the Union Common is an MDOT right-of-way.

The board will continue to hold road workshops that are open to the public. The next workshop will be scheduled at the Board of Selectmen meeting Nov. 17.

To receive an invitation to the next Board meeting held over Zoom, contact Feyler at townmanager@union.maine.gov.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Nov 13, 2020 11:29

I think more people should get treadmills and stationary bikes and stop creating obstacles of our roadways. It has the plus of keeping them home and less likely to catch or spread Covid-45.



Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Nov 12, 2020 20:15

One of the nice aspects of living on a dirt road, which I wish ours still was, is that cars don’t drive so fast. Our road was also built up with a lot of gravel, so there’s no shoulder. If someone is walking and cars come both ways, one car has to stop. There’s no way to get out of the way. The speed limit is really high too- 40 mph for a residential street- we are all constantly waving at cars going by begging them to slow down since it’s easy for speed to increase from there. Having a paved road with people flying down it doesn’t really add to the desirability of a neighborhood. Our world is shifting: people are working from home. Children are home. It’s more likely for people to be out in the street walking for exercise or children to be out playing. There’s less commuting. Maybe infrastructure priorities like high speed Internet and locally based services might be worthy of emphasis now, and paving might not be as needed as we thought it was.



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