By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Despite investing millions of dollars in improvements over the last decade, the overall condition of town streets has improved only slightly, the town’s engineering director said.
Spending $32.6 million over that period has helped Salem catch up on much-needed road work, director Robert Puff told selectmen this week.
But rising construction and material costs, especially for paving, has taken its toll on the town budget, he said.
Puff, who outlined the findings of the town’s latest pavement condition index, or PCI, said they showed only a 1 percent improvement since the first study in 2003.
The index is based on a scale of zero to 100, he said. Ten years ago, the average rating was 79, which is good, Puff said. Last year, the average rating was 80, with only minimal increases expected over the next decade.
That’s considering the town’s 10-year program calls for spending approximately $55 million in that time span, Puff said.
Salem has 182 miles of road in town, he said, with major reconstruction projects slated this summer on Pond Street, Sand Hill Road and Stiles Road.
Yesterday, a crew from Busby Construction was busy at work on Pond Street — a project that began nearly two weeks ago.
The town is also replacing red-listed bridges on Bluff Street and Providence Hill Road.
Selectmen approved $4.65 million in road work for this year, and have said their goal is to spend roughly the same amount in following years.
But Selectman Stephen Campbell was skeptical after hearing of only a 1 percent improvement in road quality since 2003.
Campbell questioned whether it was worth it for the town to “throw” millions of dollars into road work while only receiving modest improvements.
He said the town should concentrate on improving its worst roads. Campbell was surprised to discover through the PCI that South Shore Road — a street that residents often complain about — was not ranked as the worst in town.
Selectman Michael Lyons, a strong advocate of the town’s road program, said Salem needs to continue to make major investments in its streets.
He has said the town is finally making strides in upgrades after not spending enough on its roads in the past.