City officials seek $3.5 million for street repairs

City officials seek $3.5 million for street repairs

PAWTUCKET - City officials have applied for as much as $3.5 million from a state revolving loan fund to complete a laundry list of repairs to local roadways.

Leaders said they are being "proactive" in trying to address the city's "$30 million road problem," attempting to stay ahead of other communities in their efforts to secure the funding.

They say they would prefer to get approval from city voters for the extra borrowing, but don't have the time needed to set up a special vote.

Dylan Zelazo, spokesman for Mayor Donald Grebien, said the city was initially approved to borrow $500,000 from the fund, but after officials made their case to state officials, that number was bumped up to $800,000. If other communities start backing out, or are unable to get their plans together, that number could keep going up, all the way to $3.5 million, said Zelazo.

It's hard to say how many roads could be addressed with the funding without knowing how much the city will receive, said Zelazo. He said most of the roads on two lists released publicly last summer have already been fixed.

Major roadways would have top priority if the funding is received, said Zelazo, with a long stretch of Cottage Street near the top of the list.

Pawtucket officials applied for all $7 million approved last year by the General Assembly for the first year of the revolving fund, said Zelazo, with the thought that local taxpayers would save significant money by being able to borrow it through the state instead of on their own. Communities like Pawtucket that borrow through the state fund have the benefit of obtaining the money at a better interest rate.

The city would save nearly $50,000 a year in debt service payments if they're able to borrow the money through the revolving loan fund, said Director of Administration Tony Pires last week, or about $800,000 over the life of the 20-year loan, enough to fix a number of additional roads, Pires pointed out.

The city was "moved up the priority list" after officials made their case on the condition of local roads, as well as their detailed plan to fix them in order of need. They expect Pawtucket may even be moved further up the list, said Zelazo.

The money from the revolving loan fund, which was originally pushed by a partnership of General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, would be in addition to the $3 million the city borrows on its own every two years for public improvements, said Zelazo, When all is said and done, only about $300,000 a year of that $3 million is being spent on roads, he said, "if you're lucky."

The revolving loan fund is administered through the Rhode Island Clean Water Financing Agency.

At the current funding levels, without borrowing through other means like the revolving fund, local leaders say it would take them about 150 years to address Pawtucket's entire road problem.

Zelazo said there are plans to look at other means of borrowing in the coming weeks. Mayor Donald Grebien's administration is intent on "improving roads citywide," and the City Council feels the same way, he said, that many roads can't wait.

City Council President David Moran, who has long pushed for Cottage Street to be completed, said the maximum of $3.5 million approved by state officials would be a big boost to local efforts to improve infrastructure.

"It's a step in the right direction, and shows we're trying to make progress," he said.

Moran said he, too, is hoping to find other funding sources that won't place a big burden on taxpayers. If the amount is only $800,000, it "may not be worth" borrowing through the revolving fund, said Moran.

"Getting our roads fixed is a big thing for everybody," he said. "Going forward, we want to see if we can put in for more bonding next year."

Moran said he's glad to see Cottage Street on the list for repair, saying the fix would be long overdue.

Zelazo said one of the positives working in Pawtucket's favor is its "readiness" to go on road projects, as that is one of the criterion on which the funding amounts are being decided.

Because Pawtucket had an outside company complete a pavement management study, creating a list with the roads with "highest engineering priority" being addressed first, the city has a leg up on some of the other communities that applied, said Zelazo.

Grebien's administration had the management study completed back in 2012 to take the "politics" out of road repairs in the city and to have a cohesive repaving plan in place going forward.