Cautious optimism is emerging regarding the upcoming local road repair season outside the Columbus city limits.

Last year, $1.8 million was spent to put a fresh layer of asphalt on almost 34 miles of county roads in Bartholomew County, making it the largest annual overlay program on record. Normally, the county plans on paving about 25 miles of roads annually to keep even with wear and tear.

Due to two financial windfalls, including a state matching grant of nearly $1 million awarded in September, the county still has most of the original local funds it planned to spend in 2016, Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

Another factor in the county’s optimistic forecast is less damage occurring so far during a relatively mild winter. Compared to several freeze-thaw events that took place a year earlier, a deep freeze that arrived the second week of December has been the only one this season that might have caused asphalt to crack and potholes to develop, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

In addition, county road crews that often spend their winters plowing snow and clearing roads of ice have instead been kept busy with road repairs, the highway engineer said.

“We’ve had people out all winter trying to keep up with it,” Hollander said. “Crews have been able to run about every day.”

But with five more weeks of winter on the calendar, Hollander said county officials and local residents should keep their optimism in check.

There are other reasons, too.

  • An $1.86 million release of state funds for road and bridge repairs announced last May, which was the first windfall of 2016, won’t happen again this year.
  • Bartholomew County will not have the same amount of in-house funds to request a equally sizable matching grant, the highway engineer said. Money from the May grant was used to match the amount received in September.
  • Hollander reminded the commissioners that early spring, rather than winter, is the hardest time for roads when many counties set temporary weight limits for roads that sit upon soft, wet and fragile ground.

Although asphalt prices have been low over the past few years, commissioner Carl Lienhoop said there’s no guarantee prices won’t go up later this year. For that reason, Lienhoop is encouraging quick action to lock in the lowest asphalt prices possible.

This week, the highway department is completing final tabulations for its annual road report, scheduled to be presented to the commissioners Monday during their regular weekly meeting.

Bartholomew County Highway Superintendent Dwight Smith is expected to give his 2017 overlay program recommendations to the commissioners in April.

Those recommendations will outline which sections of roads should receive a new blacktop and which should be treated with chip-and-seal, a less expensive, but substantially less popular way to address road deterioration.

If you go

The County Highway Department’s 2016 road report is scheduled to be presented to the Bartholomew County commissioners during their regular weekly meeting at 10 a.m. Monday. The commissioners meet in the first floor chambers in the Bartholomew County Governmental Office building near the corner of Third and Franklin streets.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.