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Elon town council considers which is more important: pretty, or longer-lasting roads

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Elon’s elected leaders were offered a rather stark choice last week between greater longevity and a more pleasing appearance for the town’s municipal streets.

This Faustian bargain was the ultimate takeaway from a report that the town’s municipal engineer presented to Elon’s town council during their latest regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, March 12.

That evening, Josh Johnson, the town’s engineer from the firm of Alley, Williams, Carmen & King, unveiled the results of a street pavement survey that examined the roughly 26.89 miles of roadway that Elon owns and maintains.

According to Johnson, this routine assessment was largely upbeat on the condition of these municipal highways and byways.

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“Most of the streets in Elon are in good shape,” he informed the town’s leaders, “although you do have a couple of streets that are in significant disrepair.”

Johnson acknowledged that about 75 percent of the town’s streets show some signs of transverse cracking, while the much more serious specter of “alligator cracking” afflicts another 21.5 percent of the municipality’s roads. He conceded, however, that most of these defects aren’t serious enough to warrant a brand new road surface and can be sealed up with tar to prevent the cracks from enlarging.

[Story continues below photos and quotes.]

Josh Johnson, town engineer with Alley, Williams, Carmen & King

“Any time when you can push the point where you have to repair the street, you’re saving money. Instead of getting a 25 year lifespan, you’re getting 35 years with a minimal investment.”

– Josh Johnson, town engineer with Burlington firm of Alley, Williams, Carmen & King

 

Elon town manager Richard Roedner

“In the past, the board has not wanted to do it. But at the staff level, we think it’s a low cost, low-maintenance way to save money in the long haul.”

– Elon town manager Richard Roedner

Elon mayor Emily Sharpe

“From a budgetary standpoint, I think it’s a no brainer, but we should be prepared for some feedback [from unhappy residents].” – Elon mayor Emily Sharpe

Johnson observed that the process of crack sealing can potentially tack five to ten years onto the 20- to 25-year life expectancy of a typical paved roadway. He went on to recommend that the town include $50,000 for crack sealing in its next annual budget – a move that he argued will save the town a great deal of money and bother over the long-run.

Johnson noted that a 35-year lifespan will bring the duration of these roads tantalizingly close to the 40-year cycle on which the state government distributes funds to resurface municipal streets. At the same time, he admitted that, the tradeoff for these additional years is the unsightly, veiny appearance of roads that have gone through this process.

Johnson added that this purely superficial drawback has previously been something of a deal breaker for Elon’s municipal leaders. He nevertheless recommended the process of crack sealing to the town’s current leadership on the hunch that they’ll overcome their aesthetic qualms in the interest of financial prudence.

Although the council didn’t vote on Johnson’s proposal that evening, it was nevertheless hailed as potential step toward the town’s goal of “sustainability” by Elon’s mayor pro tem Monti Allison. The process of crack sealing also drew an endorsement from Elon’s town manager Richard Roedner in light of its reduced impact on the town’s budget.

“In the past, the board has not wanted to do it,” Roedner went on to concede. “But at the staff level, we think it’s a low cost, low-maintenance way to save money in the long haul.”

Yet, the prospect of roads that are less easy on the eyes left some lingering concerns for Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe.

“From a budgetary standpoint, I think it’s a no brainer,” she said, “but we should be prepared for some feedback [from unhappy residents]”

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