Officials in the Town of Babylon are taking the road in their own hands.
The town is now using its own workers on small to mid-level road repair projects rather than contracting the work out. Officials said the move will ultimately save Babylon money and also allow for more large-scale projects to be done by contractors hired for such work.
“It’s cheaper for us to do those kind of mid-level construction projects in-house,” said Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer. “It’s been wildly successful.”
The town began the initiative in 2017 as a pilot program on a few projects. Officials expanded the effort last year, including purchasing milling equipment for $18,000, and this year is taking it even further, they said.
“We know that eight hours of us doing work is going to cost us less than eight hours of them doing work,” town spokesman Kevin Bonner said of outside vendors. “It was just a matter of whether we could do the work, and we found that we could.”
Tom Stay, the town’s commissioner for the department of public works, said last year the town’s highway department completed 39 projects covering almost 12,000 square feet of roadway. This year, in the first two months of work the town has already completed 14 projects and more than 11,000 square feet of road.
The initiative does cost the town more in overtime, as some of the projects in heavily trafficked areas are done on Saturdays. Last year, overtime increased by more than $79,000, and most of that could likely be attributed to road work, Stay said. Crews of about nine employees worked eight Saturdays last year and three Saturdays so far this year, he said.
The town previously announced that they would nearly double their road work spending to outside contractors this year, from $6 million to $11 million. Schaffer announced in January that the town would spend $100 million over the next eight years to repave and repair town roads.
Using town workers for smaller projects allows the town to better utilize that funding so that all of this year’s $11 million can go toward large projects, Stay said.
“By us doing this work, it helps prolong the life of the road a couple more years,” he said. “It’s getting the best bang for your buck by doing some repavement now rather than leaving it and it having to be reconstructed, which is the most expensive form of roadwork you can do.”
The town used to do all of its own paving but stopped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Stay said. Labor crew leader Rich Incandela, who started working for the town in 1985, pushed to go back to keeping it in-house.
“We used to do a lot of this work every day,” Incandela said. “I felt we had the capabilities now of doing more than just maintenance.”
The foreman has become a mentor to newer road workers, Stay said. Incandela said he felt it was important to teach the younger crew members about this type of work, “so they learn and develop skills so that somebody knows what to do in the years to come.”
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE UNUSUAL KIND
Babylon Town workers have encountered some surprises when doing road projects, officials said.
Workers have uncovered several now-defunct methods of road structure, such as using oil and sand for the base, said labor crew leader Rich Incandela.
Crews also discovered organic material buried 50 years ago under a roadway that rotted out, causing the street to sink nearly a foot.
And recently in an industrial area of West Babylon, workers found an entire house, broken into pieces, buried under the road.