Starts & Stops

In self-grade, highways get a ‘needs improvement’

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / May 15, 2011

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The Department of Transportation’s Highway Division recently released one of its periodic scorecards, assessing its own performance on a variety of measures.

The number of structurally deficient bridges out of the 5,000 in the state’s care has been reduced to 490 as of January, the lowest in more than five years and down from a high of 529 in January 2010. Structural deficiency does not mean the bridge is unsafe, it means immediate repairs are needed to prevent it from requiring lane restrictions or becoming unsafe.

Pavement conditions on all interstate highways, state highways, and other routes under the state’s control are slightly below the department’s target. Since 1994, the state has used a special testing vehicle known as the Automatic Road Analyzer, laden with sensors and computers, to rate pavement according to an industry standard known as the Pavement Serviceability Index.

Despite a goal of having 70 percent of pavement scoring good or excellent, the most recent statewide measurement was 66.6 percent good or excellent, acting highway administrator Frank A. DePaola explained to the MassDOT board of directors at this month’s board meeting. On the interstates, 79.2 percent of pavement scored good or better, but only 61 percent of non-interstate highways and state roads fared that well.

John R. Jenkins, chairman of the board, said he thought even 70 percent sounded low.

“That’s not good to the traveling public,’’ he said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “I suggest we look at a more aggressive goal.’’

Just ahead of that scorecard, I received an e-mail from reader John Hostage of Watertown complaining about the state of pavement on Route 128 in Wakefield, which was repaved a few years ago.

“I thought that was done after they discovered that the paint they were using to mark the lanes on other highways was disintegrating the pavement,’’ he wrote. “Now the new pavement is gouged out where the white stripes used to be. How is this stupidity possible?’’

He also took issue with the state of 128 from Woburn to Lexington, calling it “a war zone with holes where the stripes used to be as well as lots of other potholes, gouges, etc.’’

MassDOT spokesman Adam Hurtubise acknowledged, as previously reported, that the state in the 1980s switched to “open graded friction course,’’ also known as popcorn asphalt, a surface with improved friction, particularly in wet weather, as well as reduced noise.

The down side is that this asphalt degrades by unraveling, rather than cracking, and it proved especially vulnerable to the hotter temperatures used in the application of newer and more reflective thermoplastic pavement markings, which have since been discontinued by the state.

“MassDOT has had an aggressive program in the last five years to address these deteriorating pavements,’’ Hurtubise said via e-mail. “We have made a great deal of progress in a short amount of time, but there are still sections of the interstate system where additional projects are under development to correct defects.’’

Customer injuries on T dip from ’10

Customer injuries on the MBTA’s subway and trolley lines in the first three months of the year dropped by one-third compared with the first three months of 2010.

From January through March, the most recent available data, the T had 67 reportable customer injuries on the Red, Orange, Blue, and Green lines, referring to injuries that required an ambulance or hospital treatment. During the same span in 2010, the T had 99 such injuries.

March 2010 (39 injuries) was the worst month in a year with 332 injuries. March 2011 had 22 injuries.

T officials could not definitively explain the decrease or say if it was statistically significant, given the sample size.

But they said they hoped it was a result of attention to slip-and-fall problem areas and other hazards, gleaned from numbers and from station observations.

“The number one goal of the authority is safety,’’ said the MBTA’s deputy general manager and chief financial officer, Jonathan R. Davis, who was acting head of the T with general manager Richard A. Davey on vacation earlier this month. “If you’re going to manage it, you’ve got to be able to measure it, and that’s what we’re doing.’’

Stairways are typically the leading site for reported injuries, followed by escalators, platforms, walkways, and track pits.

This year, as with all of last year, the Orange Line (26 injuries) leads the Red Line (20), followed by Green (13), and Blue (8), even though the Red Line has the most riders.