Long-Term Management Strategies for the Maintenance of Private Roads on Nantucket

Sponsor: Nantucket Department of Public Works dpw_team_photo
Sponsor Liaison: Kara Buzanoski
Student Team: Andrew Mahn, Kevin Ouellette, Allison Paquin
Abstract: Of the 270 miles of roads on Nantucket, approximately 174 miles (or 64%) of them are privately owned. These privately owned roads are often poorly maintained due to a lack of effective long-term maintenance strategies, resulting in increased risk to public safety. The goal of this project was to evaluate long-term management strategies for the maintenance of private roads and to make recommendations for improvement appropriate for Nantucket. The team interviewed a number of Nantucket officials and homeowners, as well as several officials from other towns in Massachusetts. With the knowledge gained from these interviews, the team created a list of criteria which Nantucket officials can use to prioritize future road takings and suggested long-term management strategies.
Link: Final Report
Final Presentation






Executive Summary

Sixty-four percent of Nantucket’s roads are privately owned and thus the abutters are responsible for maintenance. Frequently, these roads are in poor condition for many reasons including an unwillingness to pay for maintenance and a lack of proper knowledge of performing road maintenance. The deplorable condition of many of these roads causes slower response times by emergency personnel. In 2012, another Worcester Polytechnic Institute project team (Cocks, Corrigan, and LaRue, 2012) conducted research that resulted in a method for assessing road conditions to prioritize a list of thirty-eight private roads on the island. They did not, however, create a comprehensive list of quantitative criteria that the town could adopt when considering if a road should be taken and made public. Prior to our project, the Town of Nantucket did not have a method for managing the maintenance of private roads on the island or a quantitative method for prioritizing roads for taking.

The goal of our project was to evaluate long-term management strategies for the maintenance of private roads and to make recommendations appropriate for Nantucket’s Department of Public Works (DPW). In order to reach our goal, we:

  • Determined best practices in managing the maintenance of private roads in other comparable towns in Massachusetts;
  • Evaluated current maintenance practices of private roads, with and without homeowners associations, on Nantucket;
  • Evaluated the town’s current plans for private road maintenance in order to suggest future strategies and priorities;
  • Created a checklist of criteria which the town can use to identify whether a road should be taken or not; and
  • Applied the checklist of criteria to select roads to demonstrate their use.

Prior to arriving on island we learned that the County of Nantucket had recently taken Boulevarde, which is used as a cut through from Surfside to the airport and thus is heavily used by the public. This taking was the first taking of many that the DPW plans to conduct in the next ten years in an effort to alleviate traffic in the downtown area. During our project, we interviewed twenty-three people, including local officials, homeowners, and other town DPW directors about the maintenance of private roads and the reasons for taking private roads. Building on these ideas, we modified and expanded upon the criteria developed by the Nantucket Roads and Right of Way Committee in order to develop a quantitative list of criteria that we subsequently applied to three different private roads: Millbrook Road, Warrens Landing Road, and Somerset Road from Friendship Lane to Vesper Lane. These roads have either been the center of discussion among homeowners and the town or are included in the DPW Capital Plan. Our broad categories for these criteria are:

  • Importance to the traffic network,
  • Public Safety,
  • Homeowners Associations,
  • Abutters, and
  • Cost to the town.

Each of these categories we developed includes a set of sub-criteria that can be assessed quantitatively. Through field work including traffic counts, road condition evaluations, and evaluations using ArcGIS, we ‘scored’ each sample road against the criteria and created a protocol that Nantucket’s DPW can use to prioritize takings. We recommend that the DPW apply our criteria and protocols to assess other roads considered for taking in the future.

Through our discussions with different stakeholders we also discovered other practices that Nantucket’s DPW may be able to apply to increase maintenance efforts among abutters or homeowners associations. From our interviews of other seasonal town DPW directors we learned that they incentivize abutter maintenance, but on an entirely voluntary basis, with a snow plowing policy that states the town will only plow a private road that meets the standards set by the policy. Many Nantucket stakeholders whom we interviewed had mixed opinions about such a policy. Most of the town officials indicated that it would be a good idea to have a similar policy, but that it would be difficult to incentivize people to participate, especially on older roads that are not up to standard. Despite these concerns, we recommend that the Town of Nantucket draft and implement a snow plowing policy with standards that are adapted specifically for Nantucket. Since it is a voluntary program, it will not solve the maintenance issue. However, it may encourage some abutters to either strive to reach the required standards if their roads are not compliant, or to continue to maintain their roads if they are.

Margarets Way

Margarets Way

Lastly, we observed that not all abutters are aware of their responsibilities regarding private road maintenance. This is evident in the differing foci of the twenty-two homeowners associations on the island. Only half of the homeowners associations allocate a portion of their collected dues to road maintenance; the other half focuses on unrelated issues, and thus leaves their roads unmaintained. In addition to this, some homeowners have expressed concerns regarding a lack of knowledge on how to maintain their roads. This lack of knowledge causes abutters to ignore the worsening condition of their roads until they become completely impassable. If the town, either through a forum, brochure, or section on its website, were to inform the residents about their maintenance responsibilities and the different techniques used, more private roads on the island would be maintained by the abutters.

If Nantucket can prioritize private roads for taking, incentivize abutters to maintain their roads to a well-publicized standard, and educate abutters on how to reach that standard, then the conditions and safety of the private roads on the island may significantly improve. However, if the town continues to expect poorly informed and unmotivated homeowners to appropriately maintain their roads without any incentives or guidance, the situation will likely worsen, creating an increased threat to the safety of its residents. By adopting our recommendations, the Town of Nantucket would have a long-term management strategy for the maintenance of private roads that will improve their long-term condition.