It was standing-room only in the Community Services Meeting room Thursday evening as residents and officials gathered for a public meeting to discuss a plan to remedy the conditions of Morrow County roads.
Morrow County commissioners, Asst. County Engineer Bart Dennision and County Auditor Pat Davies addressed the crowd and offered presentations and information to explain what the challenges are of fixing a problem limited by existing funding. Commissioner Tom Whiston opened the meeting by saying officials were there to get public input, and their job was to manage the county’s money properly.
Auditor Pat Davies narrated a slideshow presentation called “Moving Morrow Forward” because, she said, “that is exactly what we’re trying to do.”
She explained her office has created a partnership with the county commissioners, engineer’s office and other elected officials to work on the infrastructure issues in the county.
She began by saying it’s a big misconception that property taxes go to road infrastructure maintenance. They do not, noting property taxes are for general government. Gas taxes are one source of revenue for the road; so are motor vehicle licenses and the permissive tax that just started coming in this year from the license plate fee. Her chart showed the permissive tax has brought in just over $200,000 so far this year, contributing toward the $2.5 million sum (thus far) for 2015.
“Sometimes we don’t realize how much has already been done in our county,” Davies said, showing a slide listing District 6 ODOT projects for 2015. Six major federally funded projects totaling $68.1 million are scheduled. These include the bridge replacement on SR 229 west of Marengo, US 42 and Claypool Road bridge replacements, and the SR 529 retaining wall.
Dennison, who is from Iberia, noted he is a professional engineer and surveyor, so he is familiar with road issues and their construction. He said OBWC funding is something they use every year with 74% state/26% local monies. Federal grants are pursued, such as for the CR 146 bridge, a $2 million project paid 95% with federal dollars.
“There are funds out there, we’re going after different grants,” said Dennison, noting he just applied for a $2.5 million grant that will pave about 30 miles of roads. Grants take awhile to be approved, so it could take 6-8 years to get it, with the county having to match the funding with 20% ($500,00).
“Water is our biggest enemy,” Dennision said of road maintenance. “When you talk about water getting down into the cracks and the freezing and thawing, that’s how potholes form. We have to combat that.”
One of the ways to fight it is with chip and seal, a thin layer of emulsion over the road with a chip stone on top.
“Basically it’s a system that keeps the water off the roads,” he explained. “It fixes some of the problem but it’s not a cure all – it’s maintenance.”
Another method is ‘spot’ or ‘thin-layer’ paving, about 3/4” inch thick that makes road irregularities smoother. It costs twice what chip seal does, but Dennison plans to do a lot of that this year with hopes it will last several years.
Cutting the berm is another plan to combat the breakup of roadway along its edges. Paving is an option but 2 1/2 inch thick paving costs about $80,000 a mile.
“I’m trying to maximize what we CAN do and make our dollars go farther,” Dennison stated. “We’re doing about 40 miles of roads this year.”
The order in which roads are repaired is determined from averaging the last fifteen years of traffic counts and cutting the county into five tiers. The first tier is the most travelled roads.
“This is not an overnight cure,” Dennision said. “We’re not going to fix the whole county in a year. It will take 4-6 years to get Morrow County back to where it needs to be.”
He talked about the Dura Patcher, which takes longer than hot patch but is a more permanent solution. See a demonstration of how it works here.
“I’m hoping that less than five percent of the potholes come back again next year,” Dennison said, “If we maintain them correctly, chip seal, get the water off, cut the berms, it will be doing better than it’s doing now.”
As far as all the M0rrow County bridges closed or in disrepair…
“We did six bridges last year – all 100% federally funded,” he said. “We’re doing another 14 this and early next year, and none the following year. We’re trying to move forward to fix the problem and I’m going to be around for many years. Once we have good infrastructure for businesses to come in, we’re going to start growing. That’s the goal I want to keep.”
Commissioner Tom Whiston commented that of the 200 bridges in Ohio being replaced by federal dollars, 29 are in Morrow County. “When you look at what we have been able to do to get state and federal dollars into our county as opposed to doing those ourselves, we’ve done an exceedingly good job.”
Questions from residents included:
Q: How are you going to advise the public as to the progress you are making with the roads? Not all of us have the internet or subscribe to the Sentinel.
A: We are in the process of making a website, hopefullyto be done by the end of the year, that will include that information. Also possibly notices in the Compass.
Q: How many roads and bridges out there have flats of steel on them?
A: Many, until we can get a deck back on some of these bridges, and it makes a safe cover for holes.
Q: When Ohio Edison tore up CR 150, they said they’d fix it and they haven’t.
A: Sometimes we have to deal with Ohio Edison and it’s not always the easiest thing to do.
Q: How much do you anticipate to take in on the permissive tax?
A: About $450,000 annually that goes directly to county road maintenance.
Q: Why would putting down recycled roadway not be less expensive than putting down new blacktop?
A: There is a cost with recycling the roadway, and asphalt has to be injected on top of that to make it hard. Once you do that, you still have to put asphalt on top of it. Emulsion is not cheap, because it’s associated with oil.
Q: What can be done to keep the dust down on stone roads?
A: We have 80 miles of stone roads, and we use over $100,000 a year on dust control, mostly calcium water that bonds the materials (stone and dust) together again.
Q: The bottom line is you need more funding. How many local, stat and federal grants have you applied for in the last few years? Five or six years ago, were you writing grants? The roads are tearing the school buses up, and that’s money that could be going to education.
A: We’re seeking everything we can. Auditor Davies and the commissioners are always looking out for available grants every year. Federal grants can be an 8-year process. Everybody else out there is fighting for the same money – we don’t always get it. We’re writing as many as we can. Safety for the kids (buses) is part of what this program is for.
There were many other comments and questions during the 75-minute meeting. Dennsion concluded by saying residents are welcome to call him with questions and concerns. Whiston thanked Pat Davies, Bart Dennison, County Engineer Randy Bush and everyone on the highway department for their hard work.
“We do hope to have another meeting like this at the end of the season,” Whiston said. “We want to be able to demonstrate the plan and how it’s working. We want to keep an open forum of communication with you and be transparent with the money you give us, and judiciously use it where it’s most needed.”
Reach Randa Wagner at 419-946-3010, ext. 1803 or on Twitter@MorrCoSentinel.