Money enough to repave roads

Bartholomew County has enough funding to put a new layer of asphalt on all the roads commissioners want to repave this year.

But the question remains whether there will be enough time to complete both phases of this year’s $1.6 million overlay program before the ice and snow arrive.

As presented to the commissioners, the 12.5 miles of road included in Phase Two of the program will cost $689,764, well within the $836,012 awarded last week through the state’s 2017 Next Level Roads: Community Crossings Initiative.

The remaining $146,248 received through the Indiana Department of Transportation matching grant program will either be used to reimburse the county for work already done this year, or rolled over into next year’s overlay program, Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

The county commissioners Monday gave their official go-ahead to Milestone Contractors to move ahead with the 13 projects listed in Phase Two.

Since the county had enough funds in reserve to pay for those projects if it wasn’t awarded grant money, commissioners were legally allowed to award the contract in May.

After being awarded the contract, Milestone reserved a block of time during mid to late fall to carry out the Phase Two work, Hollander said.

“If we get three-fourths of those projects done this year, it’ll be all right,” Bartholomew County commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

But commissioner Larry Kleinhenz joined both Hollander and Dave Hayward, Columbus’ executive director of public works and city engineer, in advocating for earlier grant announcements.

Small towns such as Hope, which received $211,505 through the program this year, don’t have enough reserves to secure contractors in the spring if they aren’t awarded state road funds in the fall, Kleinhenz said.

Another problem is that taxpayers may have to pay more than they should under the current system, Hollander said.

When the state suddenly provides a large amount of road money to local units of government at one time near the end of a construction season, it gives contractors the incentive to raise their prices, the highway engineer said.

Contractors often can’t work a small town’s project into their busy schedule until late spring of the following year. And since the funds must be spent no later than June 30 of that year, small towns have a limited amount of time to find a contractor, Kleinhenz said.

State officials said the grants are awarded late in the calendar year because they have to wait until after a new fiscal year begins July 1 before they know how much grant money will be available for local road money.

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