Opinion: Fixing Potholes – Not An Axiom Of Amherst Politics


Photo: rawpixel.com. Public domain

John Varner

A casual drive around Amherst will illustrate the fact that this town spends dramatically less on roads than most surrounding communities.  The town website confirms that a large percentage of the streets and roads in Amherst are in dire need of repair.  The data cited by Jeff Lee in his recent analytical piece, gleaned from the Massachusetts Division of Local Services, confirms that the town devotes a relatively small percentage of its budget to road repair.  The result of years of underfunding: residential streets and even main roads that resemble those in developing nations.  

My home street is a prime – but unfortunately typical – example of Amherst’s increasingly impassable roads.  I have lived on this street for 30 years.  It was last repaved a few years before my family moved in.  The pavement has been patched and re-patched and patched again.  The fixes are often slapdash – cold patch blacktop plopped into the worst of the un-swept, unprimed holes – and rarely last a year. Each winter, the potholes are worsened by the weather and resurrected by snow plowing, which routinely pushes last year’s asphalt additions into my yard.  Grass sprouts in cracks in what’s left of the pavement, and many of the potholes have eaten through all the layers of blacktop to the gravel below.  In 2018, I asked the Town Manager at a Cuppa Joe meeting when my street was due for re-pavement.  He told me it was scheduled for next year (2019).   I’m still waiting.

Pothole repair is such a fundamental function of local government it is almost a standing joke.  While Amherst has an admirable assemblage of social programs and amenities, like water parks and playgrounds for kids, great recreation programs and areas, and libraries slated to become even more spacious and grand, it would be great to be able to drive to them without fear of damaging one’s car.  The situation is more acutely dangerous if one is on a bike, when the hazard of holes is compounded by untrimmed vegetation hanging into the road and debris left un-swept from what are supposed to be bike lanes.  

Amherst has dug itself into a deep fiscal hole with several major capital projects in the works.  The millions of dollars that should have been used over the last decade or so to insure we have safe, passable streets have been diverted to higher profile projects with more glitz or social probity.  It is apparent from the data, and the state of our thoroughfares, that Amherst needs a reality check on its priorities.  Personally, sure, it would be a fun ego trip to drive a Ferrari Monza.  But I can only afford a Honda, and it can probably handle Amherst’s roads better than the Monza anyhow.  Amherst needs a sober, realistic look at where it’s headed – and the streets it travels to get there.

John Varner is a resident of District 3

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8 thoughts on “Opinion: Fixing Potholes – Not An Axiom Of Amherst Politics

  1. This is so well put, John. Our town can spend millions on glitz and glamor type projects, but if it fails to provide basic public services such as roads and sidewalks, where are we? If the Town Council does not direct funds towards street paving, the residents of Amherst and our underfunded, overworked DPW crews will be faced with the never ending struggles of potholes and maintenance. Here’s one idea: Let’s get this right and invest 75% of our capital budget into roads this year. That way, when I grow up, our road backlog won’t be doubled, and my children can learn to drive on safe streets.

  2. Here is another perspective. The repaving of our residential road resulted in a neighborhood speeding problem. Personally, I’m looking forward to potholes and will be happy to drive 15 mph and not live in fear for the lives of my children. Speeding is a worsening issue in Amherst and potholes are the only remedy the Town seems willing to “provide”.

    Michelle Labbe

  3. Just to add to the chorus–on South East Street there are no guardrails where it goes over Fort River. So nothing to prevent cars, bikers or even pedestrians from falling down into Fort River. It’s dark there and cars certainly have a long history of speeding. This section of the road has been in disrepair for years. Why isn’t something as basic as a guardrail a priority?

  4. I drive all over the three-county area for my work. I know exactly when I cross the line into Amherst by the sudden jolting felt in my shocks and my fillings. The DPW’s version of “glitz and glamour” seems to be roundabouts wherever they can find an allegedly problematic intersection, whether or not they are actually needed — or wanted. I’m sure it’s much more fun to build those than to keep a road in halfway decent repair. Oh yes, it’ll be smooth sailing through all those new roundabouts — if your car can actually make it there unscathed.

  5. I have been tempted to go around Amherst taking pictures of every pothole so that Amherst citizens will get reimbursed for all the flat tires, etc that we are paying for. Echo hill is a nightmare as is old Farm Rd.
    This is complete disrespect for the citizens of the town. (If you hit a hole that has not been reported, it’s your dime that has to pay for the damage, not the town. If anyone wants to join me in photographing the hundreds of potholes, please let me know. Another thing I am doing is suing the town. I voted for the school…so how about us older residents! This town is a disgrace!

  6. With Amherst facing a $40 million backlog in road repairs, educators looking at painful layoffs and being offered an unsatisfactory COLA, and the over-budget Jones Library building project needing approval of a $10 million increase in its borrowing authorization, the Town does not have enough resources to make everyone happy.

    See https://www.amherstindy.org/2023/05/05/what-is-amhersts-top-spending-priority-the-answer-may-surprise-you/ for a breakdown of how Amherst’s spending on roads, education and libraries stacks up against the other 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

    The FY24 budget is currently being presented to the Finance Committee and will be reviewed and approved by the Town Council on June 12. If you have opinions on how Amherst should allocate its limited budget dollars, take advantage of the public comment period offered at all meetings of these two bodies.

  7. Michelle Labbe, I sympathize with your feelings, but speed bumps slow traffic with far less danger to drivers and cyclists than potholes.

  8. thank you john varner.
    it’s a demand that our tax dollars take care of basic town responsibilities.
    no mystery!

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