Streets and sidewalks: What will $1.4 million override money buy?

A decade ago, Newton’s roads were in rough shape, with about 45 percent rated in “poor” or “deficient” condition.  A proposed override included $1 million for road improvements, and then-Chief Operating Officer Bob Rooney said that budget increase would bring things up to par: With those funds, he told the Board of Aldermen in November 2012, all Newton’s major roads would be in “good” condition within five years.

Fast forward to 2021 when 51 percent of Newton’s roads were rated as needing rehabilitation, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s administration. Officials have roadway plans for 2023 override funds, with $1.4 million of the proposed $9.2 million operating override dedicated to street and sidewalk work. According to their projections, with the override money only 6 percent of the city’s streets will need rehabilitation by 2030.

However, that $1.4 million will not go to additional street paving beyond what is already in the works, Newton CFO Maureen Lemieux told councilors in November — it won’t be used to increase the number of roadwork projects . The proposed override funds would go toward maintaining the city’s annual $9.5 million expenditures on roadwork and help pay for the Newton Highlands Village Enhancement and other projects, she said.

Councilor Becky Grossman said she was unhappy the money would not go to more roadwork than what was already planned.

“I was really hopeful we were going to see an uptick in the amount of work we were able to do,” Grossman said at that November meeting. “That’s something that’s disappointing me a little.”

Greg Reibman, president and CEO of the Charles River Regional Chamber of Commerce, also said he was disappointed the override money would not be used for additional street work.

“This feels incredibly misleading,” Reibman said. “The subpar condition of Newton’s streets and sidewalks has always been a big concern for many of our businesses. It’s disappointing to learn that the $1.4 million included in the operating override isn’t adding more to fix our sidewalks or streets, it’s just supporting the status quo.”

Christine Dutt and Kerry Prasad, the co-chairs of pro-override group Vote Yes for Newton, said road conditions are a major issue for residents, and thought voters would support further funds after the previous override already dedicated money to road improvements.

“Elected officials say the number one complaint they get is about the roads,” Dutt said.

“Roads are not a hard sell … people are happy to hear about any money going to the roads,” Prasad said.

Earlier override and additional funds

Voters ultimately approved the 2013 override, sending an additional $1 million into the budget for roadwork. That led to 50 percent more roads paved than in years before the override, then-Mayor Setti Warren said in 2017. His administration brought in a new system of rating roads and started funding the Accelerated Pavement Management Program in 2016 in order to address decrepit streets while taking into account sidewalk and bicycle improvements as well. The program ultimately increased roadway repair funding from $3.3 million a year to $9.5 million a year.

According to the new rating system, Newton’s roads needed a lot of work. The city graded roadways on a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 0 to 100, with those above 80 needing only routine or no maintenance, those between 50 and 80 needing preventative maintenance to minor rehabilitation and those below 50 needing major roadwork. That initial survey found an average PCI of 62.5, with 35 percent of the city’s streets having a rating of less than 55.

Since then, the average PCI for city streets has risen to 72, officials said. But with 4 percent of roadways rated 50 or under and 47 percent rated 70 or under in 2021, 51 percent of the city’s roads need some kind of rehabilitation.

While streets may be assessed as needing work, it can take years for them to be fully fixed. In Newton Centre, Allerton and Rotherwood roads were listed as in need of work in 2015’s Capital Improvement Plan, but as of late 2021 their PCIs were 39.93 and 27.79, respectively. They have received work since then, according to DPW Commissioner Jim McGonagle, and now have respective PCIs of 48.0 and 54.6, with Allerton scheduled for paving next construction season.

“Some streets take a long time to repave due to underground utility work that must be done first and is beyond the City’s control,” McGonagle told the Beacon. “DPW carefully schedules street reconstruction and resurfacing work so that major underground work is not done for many years after the street itself is fixed.”

Since the Accelerated Pavement Management Program began in 2017, the city has also worked on Newton’s 414 miles of sidewalks, going from 2.6 miles of major construction in 2017 to an average of 7.8 miles of construction over the following four years. But 20 percent of the city’s sidewalks are in poor or need-to-be-replaced condition, according to Fuller administration presentations, and DPW prioritizes work based on ADA compliance, school walking routes, proximity to businesses and mixed-use developments and other gaps in the transportation network.

More funds, faster work?

Fuller has said her administration is committed to the level of funding set by the Warren administration, and has also dedicated $6.5 million in ARPA funds for road work. According to officials’ presentations, $4 million of that money will go to improving neighborhood roads that have a PCI rating of below 50, while $2 million will go to traffic calming measures and $350,000 to improving accessibility.

According to Fuller administration presentations, if the override passes, 34 major city streets – from Waltham Street to Ward Street, Chestnut Street to Grove Street, and Hammond Street to Brookline Street — are set to be paved between now and 2030. But heavy repairs of city streets are expensive, city officials said. Minor rehabilitation – which is what 47 percent of city streets need – costs $929,000 per mile, while major rehabilitation on 4 percent of the streets costs $1.4 million a mile.

Examples of major streets to be paved before 2030. From City of Newton operating override presentation.

And inflation has led to significant increases in costs, officials said. Diesel fuel has gone up from $2.27 a gallon to $3.50 a gallon; the cost of a trackless sidewalk tractor has risen from $120,000 to $150,000 and the price of concrete sidewalks has gone from $85 a square yard to $135 a square yard.

“The inflationary pressures on road repaving costs via contractors and Streets Division supplies (e.g., asphalt, curbing, equipment, trucks) have made the need for the $1.4 million additional dedicated budgetary funds even more important,” McGonagle said.

McGonagle said that with the override funds, workers would “improve” all neighborhood streets with a PCI below 50 within the next two years. A second override in ten years would improve Newton’s overall road performance, he said.

“By addressing all neighborhood roadways with a PCI of below 50 over the next two years, the plan will bring the City’s PCI average to 80 in the next five years,” McGonagle told the Beacon.

Dan Atkinson can be reached at

Editor’s note: This story was updated for clarification on Jan. 19 at 3:45 p.m.