STAMFORD – When is driving on a road just like driving off-road?
When you drive on Cove Road, residents say.
It’s one sloppy, lumpy asphalt patch on top of another.
“I brought my car in for service and they had to replace the rear struts and shocks, and the spring was broken,” resident Wendy Rogovin said. “I can’t prove it was from driving on Cove Road, but I don’t go off-road. Cove is as off-road as I go.”
Vanessa David said her repair bill is $2,000 so far.
“My husband and I share a car and we are up and down Cove Road ten times a day,” David said. “We’ve replaced tires, rods, shocks, a muffler, the exhaust system – everything that can go wrong with a car that is driven through a war zone.”
Carol Romaniello said a car doesn’t roll down Cove Road. It “dips and jumps.”
“There’s all this patchwork that’s really bad,” Romaniello said. “We had to have new tires put on, and now we’re watching the shock absorbers. The car rides hard.”
It’s not just Cove Road – a number of other streets are bad in the neighborhood known as the Cove.
“I took my car into the dealership. One of my tires had a big hole in the edge,” a Mathews Street woman said. “The guy asked me, ‘Did you do off-roading?’ I said, ‘No, I’m just driving on my street.’”
The road surface is so wavy that the steering wheel dances in your hands as you go.
“It’s ridiculous to have it in this awful condition for so long,” Debby Stein said. “Maybe we could live with it a little better if we knew how much longer it’s going to be like this.”
But that’s hard to say.
Stamford claims to have the largest municipal road network in the state, 313 miles.
That’s more than 1,200 streets, and mayors dating back to Dannel Malloy, whose 14-year tenure began in 1995, have reported critical backlogs in repairing and repaving them.
Mayors have said that utility companies that dig up streets to repair water and gas mains – many are more than a century old – have made things worse, along with telecommunications companies that dig to install fiber-optic cable.
Mayors have complained that utility companies too often did a poor job of paving the roads they dug, so much that city crews sometimes had to do them over again.
But mayors played a part, too. When something big came up – replacing police headquarters, adding a school, removing mold from municipal buildings – mayors in search of funding were quick to cut the paving budget.
“People are frustrated; they feel like the city is not prioritizing road paving,” said Matt Quinones, who became director of the Office of Operations a month after Mayor Caroline Simmons was elected in November.
“I understand. I live here. I drive the streets, too,” Quinones said. “It’s not taken lightly. We are working to catch up.”
He began by setting up a two-tiered paving list. Tier 1 includes the 40 or so streets left on the 2021 list devised by the administration of former Mayor David Martin, said Quinones, past president of the Board of Representatives.
“I didn’t want to throw that list away,” Quinones said. “People were waiting.”
He developed a Tier 2 list by asking residents to use the FixIt Stamford citizens’ service system to put in requests for their streets to be paved. He’s received about 250 requests to date, Quinones said.
“Due to the volume of requests, it has been challenging to respond to each inquiry individually, but we are planning a communication as more roads are identified for paving this season,” he said.
The paving season ends in October, about when the hot asphalt plants close.
So far this year, crews have completed 36 roads – 11 from the Tier 1 list and 25 from the Tier 2 list, he said. Crews tackled a bunch of simpler projects to get as many streets done as possible, Quinones said. Some projects don’t require new storm sewers or drainage work and go faster, he said.
“Our goal this year is to get as close to 70 as possible,” he said. “That would be a substantial increase from last year,” when the former administration completed about 30 streets, he said.
The tier system will remain in place only until the department develops a comprehensive paving list from a study that will begin in the fall, when a company will drive the streets with a special vehicle that senses road surfaces and records the bumpiness.
Martin used the company during his tenure but did not pave based solely on the findings, which prioritize roads by those needing the most work. Martin added his own qualifications, such as traffic volume, to prioritize paving.
“We are not going to influence the criteria from the study,” Quinones said.
The utility companies are cooperating with stricter standards for repaving set in 2018, Quinones said.
Part of Cove Road will be paved this season and the rest in the spring of 2023, Quinones said.
His department will have to deal with beaten-up streets and residents who say they are beaten down by years of unfulfilled requests.
“I’ve lived here for 22 years and I honestly can’t remember the last time they paved Cove Road, if they ever paved it,” Vanessa David said.
Longtime Cove resident Jane Tiernan said she’ll believe it when she sees it.
“Before you know it, the snow is going to fly. We’ll see how much gets done before then,” Tiernan said. “I feel like the city has ignored the Cove forever. There are illegal apartments everywhere and they don’t investigate. Cars are parked all over the place. Things are so congested. It’s not supposed to be this way.”
“There is a consistent lack of communication with the city – a disregard for people who live in these neighborhoods,” Stein said. “Some people think this goes on because Cove is not a wealthy area. But we pay very high taxes that go up every year, and paving is one of the basics of running a city. It’s infuriating.”
Mathews Street residents said they’ve been calling and sending messages to Simmons’ office for months about a deep hole in the road and pavement in the same condition as Cove Road.
“It’s upsetting,” said Rogovin, who lives on nearby Weed Avenue. “We feel like we’ve been getting the runaround from various politicians to whom we’ve reached out.”
Romaniello said her family has lived on Seaside Avenue in the Cove since 1952.
“This is the worst I have ever seen Cove Road. It’s a lot to put up with,” Romaniello said. “The city doesn’t want to hear from us. They just hope we’ll go away.”
At the least, the city should warn motorists about Cove Road, Romaniello said.
“They should put up a sign: Drive at your own risk,” she said. “It needs a disclaimer.”