Hitting the roads (again)

Commissioners consider where to apply season's overlay program

Nobody should expect road crews to match or exceed the record-setting 34 miles of county roads that received new blacktop last year.

“But it (2017) could be better than every other year,” Bartholomew County highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

The annual decision of what sections of county roads will receive a fresh layer of asphalt, known as the overlay program, got more complicated last year.

For that reason, the Bartholomew County commissioners will meet with Hollander and county highway superintendent Dwight Smith to discuss the upcoming county-wide paving projects after the commissioners’ regular 10 a.m. meeting Monday.

For the first time in 2016, the overlay projects had to be done in two phases. While the commissioners received bids to pave 34 miles of road last spring, they could only approve paving for 29 miles of road.

It wasn’t until late August that the state announced Bartholomew County would receive a nearly $1 million grant to complete the five-mile second phase.

Although the money didn’t become available until mid-September, the commissioners decided to go ahead and award the second-phase bids.

In October, Hollander warned that as many as a half-dozen roads scheduled to get new blacktop might not be completed before winter arrived.

But due to milder than normal temperatures, all work — with the exception of a section of Carr Hill Road — was completed by the end of 2016, Hollander said.

The bad news is that the county will have to again wait until late summer to find out if they will receive a similar grant to complete their annual program.

But the county still has most local funds it had originally planned to spend in 2016 for this year’s program, Hollander said.

That was due, in part, to a $1.86 million windfall provided last spring by the state for road and bridge repairs, Hollander said.

While that’s the reason for Hollander’s optimism, the windfall likely won’t happen again. There are also changes in road funding formulas and programs approved by state lawmakers who didn’t adjourn for the year until Friday.

And while the overlay program has greatly benefited from record low asphalt prices the last two years, asphalt bids opened Monday indicate prices could be going up, Hollander said.

“The real proof in the pudding (concerning rising asphalt prices) will be when the highway department puts their list together and let the companies bid on each project,” commissioner Carl Lienhoop said.

All of these considerations are expected to be analyzed and discussed before the commissioners consider this year’s list of roads proposed by Smith. That list could be presented during the May 2 commissioners meeting.

The highway superintendent compiles the list each year after driving all 700-plus miles of county roads in late March and early April for inspections.

While roads that fared the worst over the winter usually get Smith’s recommendation for new blacktop, those with less severe damage are addressed in the annual chip-and-seal program.

Last year, about 100 miles of county roads received chip-and-seal from May through September.

It costs almost four times more to put down a new blacktop than it does to make chip-and-seal repairs, which adds about five additional years of life to a road, Lienhoop said.

But chip-and-seal is substantially less popular among local residents. Some complain that loose gravel from chip-and-seal treatments have caused cracked windshields, loss-of-control crashes and foreign material clogging drainage areas, Hollander said.

Others have said blotches of the asphalt-gravel mixture end up on the body of their vehicles, damaging the paint, he said.

If you go

The Bartholomew County Highway Department will delay their presentation of  the 2017 Overlay Program for a week to allow additional planning and considerations.

The list of county roads recommended to receive a new blacktop this year is  tentatively scheduled to be announced May 1 during the 10 a.m. Bartholomew County commissioner meeting.

The commissioners meet in the first floor chambers of the Bartholomew County Government Office Building at the corner of Third and Franklin streets.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.