Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting had a somewhat larger attendance than usual thanks to residents in the area of Brian Drive, Christopher Road and Woodland Drive seeking to voice their disapproval toward a recent road maintenance job in their area involving a substance called Chipseal.
The substance, which consists of an aggregate of asphalt chips and tar and is used to extend the lives of roads, drew the ire of the neighbors in attendance since it was laid down in August.
"A large truck came in with tar and crushed stone and the nightmare began," said Bruce Stevens, a 40-year resident of Brian Drive. "Every piece (of Chipseal) is harmful to people, in particular children, and the spirit of the of the neighborhood has been destroyed. We no longer have couples walking in quiet conversation because they cannot; instead we have cars driving slowly because they have to, on a surface that sounds like broken stone."
According to Highway Department superintendent Chip Barrett, the use of Chipseal in Westford dates back several decades, with over 32.5 miles along 90 streets in town being surfaced with the substance, including 4.2 miles across Westford in the past few weeks alone.
Barrett told the board and the residents that over time, the substance becomes more compact due to vehicle traffic, snow plows and snow packing down on the street, and that the town has pioneered processes to help accelerate the maturity of the Chipseal such as the use of rubber drum rollers instead of steel drum rollers.
Between that eventual settling out and the fact that uniform asphalt paving costs six times as much as Chipseal while only giving twice as much life extension to a road was more than enough for the Selectmen to be in favor of the substance's use.
Selectman Jim Sullivan went as far to correct one resident who said he hoped a piece of the substance won't hit anyone due to cars driving by.
"It's not 'I hope.' It's never happened," said Sullivan in response. "For the forty years we've been doing this, that's never happened. I don't think the town would put something down that's unsafe, so that's not the issue here."
The matter was tabled until the spring to see if the situation would correct itself like other previous streets covered with Chipseal, but Sullivan warned the residents not to get their hopes up even then due to the town's budgetary concerns.
In addition, Police are investigating a piece of the street that was potentially damaged by private contractors shortly after the Chipseal was placed by the Highway Department, although the estimated area of damage is approximately 3 sq. ft of the over 9,000 sq. ft paved.