DRACUT -- Dennis Tourville kicked softly at the surface of the road in front of his home at 30 Partridge Road, easily breaking off several chunks of asphalt from the crumbling top layer.
Pieces of Partridge were strewn everywhere along the road's 200-yard length, spilling onto the lawns and driveways of Tourville's six neighbors on the cul-de-sac where he has lived since 1986.
"The town tells me, "There's nothing we can do, there's no money,'" Tourville said. "I understand money is tight, but the deterioration is not going to stop. The under-layers of this street are collapsing. The sewers are caving in."
If homeowners on Partridge Road want their dissolving street reconstructed and repaved, they will have to pool their money and pay for it themselves because Partridge Road was never formally accepted by Town Meeting, Dracut town officials told Tourville.
"The town manager told me, 'Get your neighbors together, get a contractor's quote, and pitch in and pay,'" Tourville said. "I paid my taxes all these years. I don't mind paying my fair share for town services, but when I need help, I think they should be there, not standing by some archaic (regulation), telling me I've got to come up with one-seventh of a $300,000 bill. I can't afford that.
Public Works Director Mike Buxton said Tourville is one of hundreds of Dracut homeowners who have the misfortune of living on one of at least 60 streets in town -- totaling more than 13 miles of roadway -- that his department and the state Highway Department have listed as "unaccepted."
The roads' lack of formal acceptance by Town Meeting means they cannot be repaired using Chapter 90 money allocated annually by the state to fix local streets and bridges, Buxton said.
The state's Chapter 90 allotment for Dracut in the past fiscal year was $750,000, Buxton said. State lawmakers recently dramatically increased the total amount of Chapter 90 funding being made available to cities and towns, causing Buxton to hope that Dracut's allotted portion will get a half-million dollar boost. But that money will only benefit homeowners on accepted town roads, he added.
The $130,000 that Buxton sets aside within the Dracut DPW's annual budget for local road repairs would cover only a small fraction of an estimated $15 million that's needed to properly repair all of the unaccepted roads in town, he said.
"It's another priority that we have to put on the shelf until the time funds become available," Buxton said.
Often, decades ago, roads were labeled "unaccepted" when the original developer either did not build the road sufficiently to meet town standards, or didn't follow through with the paperwork to receive approval from Town Meeting. It was a rampant problem in the 1970s and '80s, according to Town Manager Dennis Piendak.
"One of the things I did when I came here was change the bylaws of the Planning Board to require that 100 percent of the bond money not be returned (to developers) until they bring the road in for acceptance at Town Meeting," Piendak said.
Though town planners have placed repairs to unaccepted roads on their long-range wish list, the unanswered question, according to Piendak, remains: Where's that money going to come from?
"It's a proposal in the town's capital plan, but nothing's been appropriated," Piendak said. "Yes, everyone wants to do it, but It's big bucks. Should it be done as a debt exclusion? Should it be done as part of the operating budget? Should it be done at all? It's something the town is going to have to talk about."
Piendak said several unaccepted roads in town are former summer-camp roads that later became the addresses of year-round homeowners.
"So whose responsibility is it to bring those old summer camp roads up to standard -- the homeowners or the taxpayers?" Piendak asked.
In a recent special instance, Piendak said Town Meeting took emergency action to fast-track acceptance of a previously unaccepted road for safety reasons, with the homeowners on the road being required to pay for the road's repairs and paving through a special assessment on their tax bills.
"On Robbins Avenue, about eight years ago, we had rental projects built on a private way that were then converted to condos, and the road just became totally impassable so school buses couldn't go up it," Piendak said. "We did it as a special assessment that people were paying off on their tax bills."
Citing the Robbins Avenue case as an example, Piendak suggested that Tourville and his neighbors on Partridge -- and residents of other unaccepted roads in town -- might want to consider for the reconstruction of their streets through a special assessment on their tax bills.
Tourville had a very different idea for solving the problem of unaccepted-road repairs, however, as he floated the idea of starting a group legal action against the town on behalf of the affected homeowners.
"I've had enough law classes to know the town owns this street," Tourville said. "For 30 years, they've done plowing, trash pickup, town sewer service, and every one of us pays taxes. To tell us 'Get your neighbors to pitch in and bring a contractor in and do it yourself' is the height of stupidity. We don't have that kind of money.
"Maybe some other unaccepted-road residents could join together and get some results," Tourville said.