Short: County comes up short in road funding

Ed Howell
Posted 8/14/17

At a Walker County Commission meeting in February, County Engineer Mike Short explained that Walker County gets additional funds for road work — but that it isn’t nearly enough to meet its needs. …

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Short: County comes up short in road funding

Posted

At a Walker County Commission meeting in February, County Engineer Mike Short explained that Walker County gets additional funds for road work — but that it isn’t nearly enough to meet its needs.

Short explained that every county in the state gets a $500,000 allotment managed by the Alabama Department of Transportation. “The money doesn’t come to us. It is held in Montgomery in our account,” he said.

Moreover, he said $500,000 is not much to accomplish a road or bridge project, meaning the county usually has to save its funds over several years in order to reach its needs. If a $4 million project is available with a 20 percent local match, the county has to come up with $800,000.

“We probably have about $2 million in our account down there waiting. But again coming up with matching money is a difficult thing for us at this time,” he said, noting money waiting in Montgomery itself cannot be used for matching funds.

Moreover, the money is only eligible for certain roads, he said.

“Just because a road is in poor condition doesn’t mean we can spend federal money on it,” he said. “It has to be a major collector, which is normally roads with over a couple of thousand cars a day.”

Years ago, federal funds could be spent on minor collector roads, but that was ended, Short said. District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said the roads that typically generate the most complaints are all usually minor collector roads, coming nowhere close to a major collector status.

Short said Walker County has approximately 1,200 miles of roads and at this time he gave what he said was a “generous estimate” that the county is spending $500,000 a year on new road paving.

“At that speed, we will be able to pave every road in Walker County in 240 years,” Short said.

Studies show roads begin to break down from natural conditions between eight and 12 years. Using a life cycle of 15 years for a road, the 1,200 miles can be divided by 15, and that shows Walker County should be paving 80 miles of roads per year.

The cost of a heat treatment to prevent cracking through the pavement, 165-pound overlay and the striping all comes to more than $100,000 a mile to pave a road in the county.

“We really need an injection of $8 million a year,” Short said, adding he knows how that sounds in size. “But that is a fact. We are going downhill on a roller coaster ride so fast. There is no bottom. We’re not going to turn without some new revenue. And it’s been like that for probably 10 years.”

The $8 million would be in addition to the current funding available, which is needed for patching the roads that can’t be paved this year, he said.

Asked to foresee what the situation will be in a few years without more funding for road pavement, Short said, “It will alleviate one problem. The sheriff is not going to want Tahoes. He is going to want Polaris Rangers to ride on gravel roads. We’re closer to having gravel roads than we are to having newly paved roads.”

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis talked at that time about needing milling machines and motor graders if that is the case, to replace aging equipment, as well as more labor to grade roads on a weekly basis.

A coal tax has been used in the past for paving, so that many bridges were replaced in the past 15 years.

Two bridges are not in good condition, Short said, pointing to Price’s Bridge, also known as Littleton’s Bridge, over Lost Creek, which was constructed in the mid-1960s, and Country Club Road Bridge, probably the oldest bridge in service in the state, as it was constructed in 1898. He said Price’s Bridge could particularly be a problem if it was closed, as a closure would result in a 30-mile detour.

“That’s probably a $5 million bridge,” he said.

Some bridges from the 1940s have been maintained well and are functioning, but if one of those goes out it would have to be closed.

“We’re not going to have the finances to rush in there and do something to them,” he said, noting $2 million in bridge funds are in reserves, but all of that money is committed.

Short said that if roads are taken to gravel status, they would likely never return to the status they are today. It is not much cost to make them into a gravel road, but it would be unlikely they would be built back up for the constituents.