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County plans to repave roads with gas tax

The county commission has constructed a plan that would resurface 65 miles of county roads in the first year of a 15-year-plan to repair nearly half of the county’s paved roads.

Commissioner Russell Johnson, District 6, who worked with the Road Department and other commissioners to craft the plan, explained why it was designed as proposed.

“This road paving list is built on degradation and risk assessment that has stayed the same for the past two commissions,” Johnson said. “Before the gas tax, a $480,000 federal highway grant was the sole source of funding for the county to resurface major and minor collectors. There has been no budget period for local roads in the last 30 years.”

Johnson and Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4, worked together prior to the gas tax passage to craft a plan using reserved funds in the county’s general fund budget to finance $1.2 million for local road resurfacing over a 24-month period. This plan was referred to as the “24-month plan.”

Johnson explained that the new plan for road resurfacing in the county is to borrow $5.6 million initially to resurface some of the county’s worst roads so that the county can catch up and put road resurfacing on an approximate 30-year cycle.

“The 6-cent gas tax will begin being collected on September 1, but the county won’t actually receive any of that money until January 2020,” Johnson said. “And then in 2021 that will go up to 8 cents and in 2022 it will go up to 10 cents. If we had to wait for those funds to build up and pay as we go, we would never get caught up because we’re so far behind.”

The existing road needs list breaks down the roads into three categories: “Class C” roads that are in immediate need of resurfacing, “Class B” roads that are degrading to a point they will soon need to be resurfaced, and “Class A” roads that currently are not in danger of becoming an issue.

“The money we’re looking at borrowing is to get caught up with the 30 years of non-paving we’ve had to suffer through,” Johnson said. “It will pave the first 65 miles of road on resurfacing list in order of importance.”

The “importance” of a road being resurfaced is based on several criteria including how many subsurface layers have deteriorated, the traffic count, width, base failures, leveling and more.

Johnson explained that the current plan focuses 75 percent of gas tax revenues to resurfacing and 25 percent to preventative maintenance to extend the life of some roads until the county can obtain the funding to resurface them.

Not all of the “top-priority” roads con be repaved in the first year, Johnson said, simply due to how much money some of the high-traffic roads cost to resurface. Instead, some of the worst high-priority roads will be resurfaced with some smaller roads also worked in to make the most of the available money.

Only 49 percent of the annual revenue is budgeted in the plan to debt payments, limited by the state’s Rebuild Alabama Act. The other half of the revenue will also be spent on a yearly basis.

Johnson said the plan ultimately would fund 198.5 miles of county roads to be resurfaced and nine bridges to be replaced in 15 years, with the exception of a $2.5 million shortfall. The planned solution for this shortfall is to enact two more “24-month plans” during that time period using county funds.

There are also some funds that will be available through the gas tax that are not able to be budgeted, Johnson said. The revenue will create two grant pools, one $10 million fund and one $30 to $40 million fund that will both require competitive applications.

Johnson said the county plans to apply for these grants each year, and securing a grant could also help meet that shortfall.¬

“We’re going to reinvest money in the best way we can, tackling it by safety first,” Johnson said. “We want to reinvest the money back into the people.”

The commissioners disagreed about the plan Monday night at their commission meeting, with Charlie Harris, District 5, calling it a “no-no” that his district only had about a tenth of a mile of road to be resurfaced.

Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4, said that’s because the district are unequal in road mileage due to the layout of districts.

“We don’t need to be shortsighted; I hope we can be apolitical about choosing roads,” Copeland said.

No action has yet been taken on the plan as commissioners will continue to discuss which roads are on the list and how to divide them between districts. The plan is due to be turned in by August 31. The commission has two more meetings before that date.