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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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City could face infrastructure issues

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Martinsville could face a crisis in the next decade if more is not done to fix its deteriorating infrastructure, the city’s newest administrator believes.

That includes water/sewer lines, many of which are old, as well as streets.

Jeff Joyce, an 18-year city employee recently promoted to public works director, estimated that the city will have to spend at least $150,000 to $200,000 a year to get work needed on lines done gradually.

The city has about $70,000 on hand to cover routine-type repairs to water and sewer lines, according to officials.

Yet nothing has been budgeted “for taking out a large section of line” that ruptures and replacing it, Joyce said.

That would have to be handled through a request for capital funds, said city Water Resources Superintendent Andy Lash.

The city also has reserve funds it can use for such emergencies.

“A lot of our infrastructure is very old,” especially water/sewer lines, Joyce said.

Martinsville has some cast iron water lines that were installed in the 1890s and still work fine, Joyce said. Yet it has lines 80 to 90 years old or less that are made of weaker materials and are deteriorating — such as by developing cracks — faster than the city can replace them, he said.

He noted, for example, “transite” pipes made from asbestos and cement installed decades ago when some residential subdivisions were developed. “They break fairly easy now,” he said.

How fast water/sewer lines deteriorate after being installed depends on various factors, including the materials they are made of, water pressures, rust, vibrations, soil types and acid levels, and heating and cooling of the ground, Joyce said.

As funding allows, the city is “gradually replacing a few (pipes) at a time” when cracks and other problems are found through water line flushing or sewer line “smoke tests,” Joyce said.

But there could be a crisis “within the next 10 to 15 years if we don’t start now” trying to repair or replace deteriorating pipes more actively, he said.

Lash agreed, saying “we’re living on borrowed time.”

Finding funds to cover the work ultimately will be up to City Manager Leon Towarnicki, who previously was public works director, and Martinsville City Council, according to Joyce and Lash.

Lines along Indian Trail are tentatively set for replacement in the fiscal year starting next July. Joyce estimated the project will cost about $200,000.

Joyce also is concerned about a lack of street maintenance due to a paucity of funds.

In recent years, he said, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has cut the city’s allocation for maintaining streets from roughly $500,000 annually to between $250,000 and $350,000.

“Very little” of the city’s own money goes toward street maintenance since that money is needed for other purposes, Joyce said.

Couple the reduction in VDOT funds with higher costs for equipment and supplies, such as asphalt, and “we’re getting farther and farther behind” in fixing streets with potholes, cracked pavement or patches where pavement was removed to repair or replace pipes underneath, he added.

“You can go into any part of the city and find streets in pretty bad shape,” Joyce said.

That includes uptown routes such as Broad, Church, Main and Moss streets, he said. He added that the city likely will not repair bad pavement along Moss and nearby streets until the construction of the New College Institute’s new building is finished “so heavy truck traffic doesn’t destroy what we put in.”

When road funding was more plentiful, the city tried to repave some streets in each quadrant — north, south, east and west — and in each neighborhood within a quadrant every year, according to Joyce.

With less money now, Joyce said, the city generally places top priority on fixing problems along major highways such as Memorial and Commonwealth boulevards. Second priority, he said, are “collector streets” such as Starling Avenue, Spruce Street and Clearview Drive, while residential streets usually are handled last.

He has a request for people who live along streets with bad pavement.

“Be patient,” Joyce said. “We’ll eventually get to” it.

Joyce began working for Martinsville in 1995 as the manager of its former landfill. He was named assistant public works director/superintendent of operations in 1999.

Before working for the city, he spent several years at Prillaman & Pace Inc. as a utility and highway construction superintendent before starting his own construction management business.

As the assistant public works director, he spent much of his time working with and coordinating crews. Now, he will spend more time in an office, figuring out what work needs to be done and trying to find ways to get it done amid financial constraints, he said.

City Engineer Chris Morris has been given the dual title of assistant public works manager.


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