Street paving projects this year could be delayed, or even postponed, in the largest city in western Massachusetts.
The short construction season could get even shorter, and travel along some city streets much bumpier, warns Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, if the City Council does not vote soon to authorize spending $3.7 million in state funds for local road construction projects.
"It sends a bad message to the state almost as if you don't want the money," said Sarno. "Delays hurt because you have to have bidding, construction plans, the whole nine yards. We want to get these done this construction season ASAP."
After the City Council voted to refer acceptance of the state money, known as “Chapter 90” funds, to committee, Sarno issued a statement urging councilors to “come to their senses.” He said approval of the annual allocation of state funds for local roadwork had always been considered “routine.”
City Council President Orlando Ramos said Sarno’s demand for immediate approval does not give the council a chance to have any say about which projects the city should undertake.
"When you have 13 elected officials and the people who elected us are complaining to us that their streets should be paved, then we have to have a seat at the table when it comes to deciding which streets will be paved," said Ramos.
Sarno said the Department of Public Works follows a “master plan” in prioritizing which streets to repave.
"We also try to coordinate the work with the utility companies (so they're not digging up a street we just fixed)," explained Sarno.
One of the projects scheduled for this construction season is the repaving of Eastern Avenue – a major thoroughfare that has been dug up over the last couple of summers for extensive infrastructure work by utility companies.
Sarno said the Old Hill Neighborhood Council has been asking when Eastern Avenue will be paved.
MassDOT informed cities and towns in February how much Chapter 90 funds each municipality would receive. But Ramos said the mayor waited until the first week in May to ask the council to accept the funds.
"So there was plenty of time for the DPW or mayor's office to reach out to the City Council for input, but they chose not to do that , so when that happens you have to expect a delay," said Ramos.
The dustup over street paving may reveal a deeper tension between Sarno and the City Council. In an interview, the mayor voiced frustration over what he said was the council’s recent penchant for “automatically throwing everything into committee.”
"Some of this is grandstanding and it is absolutely ridiculous," Sarno said.
Recently, requests from Sarno for taxpayers’ funds to contribute to a campaign to market the city and to subsidize operations at Union Station were referred by the council to committee. Both requests emerged from committee with positive recommendations.
Ramos said the council is doing its due diligence.
"The problem is there has not been communication from the executive branch with the legislative branch," said Ramos. " Often they propose something last minute and expect the council to vote on it without any discussion and that is just not the case."
Sarno estimated the city has received $30 million in state funds over the last decade for local road projects.