Purnell Seeks Harrison Ave. Improvements

BERLIN – Harrison Ave. needs some help, Berlin Council member Troy Purnell says, and sooner rather than later.

A recent bond issue for major improvements to Grice Street, Graham Ave. and Vine Street came in well under estimate, leading Purnell at the time to say that the left over funds could be used for improvements to Harrison Ave.

Bond funding can only be used for the projects named in the bond resolution approved by the Berlin Mayor and Council.

Some took his comment at the time as lighthearted, but Purnell said he is serious about wanting to see it done.

“I think everyone up there wants to see it happen,” Purnell said of his fellow town officials. “Now that the bond issue is so much less, I think the room is there to do something.”

Mayor Gee Williams agreed that Harrison Ave. needs repairs and improvements.

“I think it’s going to be awhile before we can afford to invest the money needed to do it right because basically it needs everything,” Williams said, adding that Harrison Ave. is essentially a “patched over dirt road.”

While now is not the time for a major road improvement project, which on Harrison Ave. would encompass sidewalks, curbs, street lights, drainage and even a realignment, the town should explore laying down a two- or three-inch layer of asphalt to make the road more user-friendly for the next several years, Purnell said.

The realignment is the trickiest aspect of the work with property owners to deal with, officials said.

“It’s going to take some state money since they’re all state roads it’s tying into,” said Purnell. “I don’t think the time is right to ask the state for anything.”

The state cut road money to the counties and towns two weeks ago, although the impact on Berlin is unknown.

Improvements to Harrison Ave. have been on the town’s mind for years at the government and private level.

According to Purnell, many people, including members of his own family, will not drive down Harrison Ave., using Main and West streets to access Broad Street instead.

Purnell estimated based on square footage that simply applying a new coat of asphalt over the unimproved sections of the road would cost between $50,000 and $60,000.

“We could certainly look at that as a very doable alternative to make that road condition better,” Williams said.

Money would have to be borrowed to accomplish the entire overhaul of the road, he said.

Harrison Ave. will be included in the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which will list projects expected or desired for a five-year period in priority order, said Williams.

CIPs are often used by governments as a priority list or set of goals for future projects.

“We’re trying to make sure we don’t choke on all the needs at once,” said Williams.

The town council will take up the CIP in late fall or early winter.

“I’d like to do that before we begin the next formal budget process, which will be in the middle of the winter,” Williams said.

Berlin Administrator Tony Carson said the road will be looked at in the coming months.

“We’re identifying needs right now,” said Carson.  “It’s certainly something we will be looking at in the fall.”

Carson cautioned that a CIP is not set in concrete. “People have to realize it’s a fluid document,” Carson said. “Things change.”

Inclusion of a project in the CIP is not a guarantee of funding or a construction timeline.

“You’ve got to have a plan,” Williams said. “That’s been part of the problem in the past. If it’s too vague, it never gets done.”