24-month plan to repair roads to begin soon

Published 11:19 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2018

When Chad Copeland and Russell Johnson joined the Pike County Commission in 2017, they began looking at the state of local roads and saw, like many residents, widespread issues across the county.

But Copeland said telling people what the problems are isn’t constructive toward making any change.

“Nobody wants to hear only problems,” Copeland said. “So we decided we had to go to people and tell them the problems, but also show them here’s what we’re doing to fix the problem inside our budget. Every dollar we get needs to be reinvested in the county citizens.”

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According to county engineer Russell Oliver, the problem stems from a broken system in the way roads are handled.

“The responsibility for providing reasonably safe county roads falls 100 percent on the commission by state law,” Oliver said. “And that includes me as well. But we have zero authority to generate revenue to fi the roads.”

As it stands, Copeland and Oliver said the Pike County Road Department can barely afford to perform regular maintenance on the roads, much less resurface the hundreds of miles of road in the county that need repair.

With the federal money allocated each year to resurface major and minor collector roads, Oliver said it would take 92 years just to clear the list. That doesn’t take into account the ever-increasing costs of repaving a road and the possibility that revenue will remain flat or even decline.

Copeland used the most recent road department budget to explain the funding challenges faced by the department.

“Last year they had a budget of $3.5 million,” Copeland said. 0.5 million of that was FEMA reimbursement for Christmas floods in 2015, so you can’t count on that every year. $1.5 million of that is payroll.”

Another 0.5 million is for the sale of construction equipment, Oliver said, which is offset by the purchase of equipment needed to replace the sold items.

“So what you’ve got is about $1 million to get the materials needed to maintain the roads,” Copeland said.

While it would take 92 years to resurface all the roads using the federal money allotted per year, Copeland pointed out that local roads are not eligible for the federal funding.

“What we’ve really got there is a 0-year repaving plan.”

Or, at least that was the case before Copeland and Johnson crafted the 24-month plan, which capitalizes off of the county’s 10-year financial plan begun in 2007 to attack the county’s outstanding debt.

The commissioners took $385,000 that had formerly been allocated annually from the road and bridge fund to go toward the debt reduction and diverted it for repairing local roads and bridges. Another $90,000 in savings from a reduction in the labor force in the road department was also reallocated for local roads and bridges and $125,000 annually during each of the two years is to come from the general fund.

In all, the program will provide $1.2 million toward local roads and bridges. Along with some federal grant funding, the plan will allow nearly 30 miles of road to be resurfaced and 24 timber-wood bridges to be replaced. There will also be a countywide striping project funded by the plan.

Oliver said the timber bridges are a “black eye” on Pike County and need to be replaced as quickly as possible.

“We’ve already replaced six of the bridges and anticipate 16 being replaced in the upcoming year,” Oliver said. “They’re very small, weight-restricted bridges that we’re replacing with large pipes. We had 49 of these and they are a maintenance headache ¬ they’re expensive to maintain and you can’t drive a school bus over them, you can’t drive a concrete truck over them, no log trucks or dump trucks. They’re very restrictive.”

With the elimination of four prior to the project and a total of 30 to be eliminated from 2017 to 2020, the county will have just 15 of these bridges left.

Four county roads will begin being “rehabilitated” near the end of September. The roads are CR2204 from CR2203 to CR2214, CR2243 from CR2246 to Warrick Circle, CR6629 and CR4413.

“This is not just a resurfacing, it’s not just a thin layer of asphalt over the road,” Copeland said. “These roads are so bad it takes a whole lot more.”

That “whole lot more” includes cleaning the ditches beside the road and a complete overhaul of the surface.

The federal aid rehabilitation project for portions of county roads 2290 and 2276 should also begin within a month, Oliver said. The project is a $1.7 million dollar plan.

Past the 24 months planned out for the projects, Copeland said another facet of the plan to continue attacking debt will hopefully free up new revenue to allocate toward local road repairs. The $600,000 a year in repair work is not sustainable though, he said.

“We’re going to hope the legislature does something by then, but if not, we’ll look for the next way we can find money inside our budget,” Copeland said. “We’re beating around every bush and looking around every corner. If your roof is leaking and you don’t have the money to fix it, you’re still going to go up and put a tarp up. That’s what we’re going to do.”