Photo: Common Street.
The money is in the bank, the contractors are ready to go and long-suffering residents are waiting with bated breath.
But for homeowners along four Belmont roadways, a labor dispute between workers and an international utility firm is threatening to delay the reconstruction and repaving their streets until this coming Spring.
The prediction by Town Engineer Glen Clancy to the Board of Selectmen at its Monday night meeting, Aug. 20, relates to a month-long lockout of 1,100 union gas workers by employer National Grid after the two sides could not reach an agreement on a new longer-term contract in June.
Now Belmont residents are locked out of a promised a new road after suffering through detours and delays for the past year.
“I just want the community to understand that … the town and DPW (Department of Public Works) are obviously aware of the conditions of these roads,” said Clancy.
In each case, permitted infrastructure projects – such as the installation of gas lines – are uncompleted. Under current town policy, the Office of Community Development will not release funds for roadways that require expensive gas, water, and electrical work in the near future even if it was approved by Town Meeting.
“With National Grid being locked out, the utility work necessary to finish those projects are at a standstill,” said Clancy.
Clancy said many complaints relating to the condition of Common Street which runs from just outside Belmont Center to Cushing Square and to the Watertown line.
Other streets include Payson Road, Lawndale and Prospect streets which were selected in the past year to be part of the annual pavement management program which sets aside funds to reconstruct streets the town determines to be in the most need of repair.
“I want people to understand that if not for the lockout, it’s likely that Clifton and Prospect streets would be finished since most of the major work is complete,” said Clancy, noting that Common Street is under the 2017 pavement management contract, “so all we are waiting for is for the street to be fixed.”
While the beginning of winter – and the end of the reconstruction and paving season – is not yet around the corner, Clancy said unless the lockout is resolved soon, DPW will need to consider a stop-gap solution “to make sure those roads are safe for driving until the spring of 2019.” He pointed to the temporary top coat of asphalt placed on Grove Street last winter as an example.
“[National Grid] has been put on notice for that job,” said Clancy.
Answering a question from Selectman Tom Caputo, Clancy said mid-September would the latest date to begin reconstruction and replacement for any street, providing six good weeks before the weather conditions turn “sketchy.”
“We have a little bit of time but the clock is ticking,” said Caputo. Worst case scenario, according to Clancy, is the work will be scheduled to begin in eight to nine months from Sept. 1. But even if the lockout is resolved in the next few weeks, there is no guarantee National Grid would be able to send the necessary crews to finish the work as the firm is currently backlogged with jobs.
The one “good” result of the management action is it now allows the lining of the large MWRA water main along nearly the length of Common Street to be completed without competing with National Grid crews, said Clancy.
Correction: The labor action between National Grid and the unionized workers is a lockout, not a strike.