Commission laments lack of funding for road work

Bids for work in Districts 1, 2 approved by commissioners

Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 7/21/21

The Walker County Commission on Monday approved two paving project bids, with commissioners lamenting that paving is now expensive and it takes longer to save up to do all the paving that needs to be done. 

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Commission laments lack of funding for road work

Bids for work in Districts 1, 2 approved by commissioners


The Walker County Commission on Monday approved two paving project bids, with commissioners lamenting that paving is now expensive and it takes longer to save up to do all the paving that needs to be done. 

While on the subject, commissioners took time Monday to repeat many arguments made over the years about how expensive it is to pave just a mile of road - and how they have few financial resources to catch up with paving. 

Two projects in Districts 1 and 2 had winning low bids Monday from Good Hope Contracting Co., with each funded in part with $300,000 in state Rebuild Alabama funds. District 1 Commission Keith Davis said Districts 3 and 4 will also get $300,000 each from the fund, with the county getting a total of $1.2 million annually from Rebuild Alabama. 

Chairman Steve Miller said the county has also been "tremendously" helped by additional funding approved by the commission in June. The commission approved dividing up $1.6 million in COVID-19 funding between the districts to use with road projects in the county. The funding was money reimbursed to the county for money spent earlier on COVID-19 needs. 

The commission approved a $961,819.44 bid to resurface and stripe 6 miles of Smith Lake Dam Road (also known as County Road 43) in District 1. It also approved a bid for $492,891.58 to resurface and stripe nearly 4 miles of Nauvoo Road (County Road 11) in District 2.

Davis emphasized that $961,000 was being spent to pave 6 miles of road with asphalt. Meanwhile, the county has 1,100 miles of roads and over 100 bridges. 

"District 1's district budget per year is $800,000 a year. That is to employ the workers we have to maintain the right of ways, the brush, stripe lines, fix potholes, put pipes in - all the various things we do. That's is what we've got to maintain 222 miles of road in District 1, and 10 bridges," Davis said. 

"So you can see the funding deficit the county and these gentlemen up here face each and every day," he said, noting it might take three years to complete paving of all 11 miles of Smith Lake Dam Road, as it takes a while to save up the necessary funds. He noted it is the most heavily traveled road in the district. 

"We thought $100,000 a mile, Glenn, was high to pay," Davis said to Assistant County Engineer Glenn Peek. "Now, we're paying $160,000 a mile by the time you stripe it and do the sides and curbs like they should be," among other details.

He said the commission will proceed with the bids "because I'm afraid of what it will be in six months the way prices are going." 

Half of his $800,000 budget goes to labor, and half of the labor is part-time. Eight crew men are working in the district. 

"Funding is a key issue for infrastructure that we are going to have to address statewide, nationwide and also in this county if we are going to maintain a viable road system," Davis said. 

District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said the day the new state gas tax law was signed last year, "asphalt companies in the State of Alabama increased their prices by 20 percent as well. All. There are things just completely outside of our control." He also noted counties in the state have fewer revenue sources and the coal tax revenue has dropped off that was once helpful for paving. 

Davis said his district was fortunate enough to have federal money to resurface Fall City Road, and now Smith Lake Dam Road is next on the list. 

He also noted many taxpayers don't like tar and gravel, or surface treatment, roads, but those only cost $40,000 a mile, versus $160,000 a mile for asphalt pavement. That's the reason people see many tar and gravel roads, he said. 

"I want to stress this: Every commissioner up here wants to pave every road," Davis said. "We would love to pave every road and put down freshly-black asphalt throughout the county. We'd love to. We're not doing it because we choose not to." The reason is the $160,000 a mile pavement cost for asphalt. 

For his part, District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burrough said his district used their federal aid money last year with matching money to do a 9-mile stretch of Nauvoo Road as an initial effort. The new project will pick up the balance of the road, going to the "T" in Nauvoo, and then extend in both directions.  

Burrough said he was able to do Pleasant Grove Road, which was finished up that week, with about 3 miles of it done out of a total of 4 or 5 miles. "We've done the worst areas" with the money that was available, he said. 

"When you take the asphalt and you go off on these tar and gravel roads that are on what I call secondary roads, you have leveling problems to where they feel good about their work. That takes more of the leveling surface, so it creates an even higher price" - possibly $190,000 a mile, Burrough said. 

Burrough said several secondary roads will be worked on when dry weather comes, noting crews would "start from scratch" with them. "All of us are tired of patching. About the only way to fix some of these real bad roads is to get the road machine out and tear them up and start over," he said. "We've got a list of those ready to go." 

Davis noted in the commission comments period that for striping he is leaning toward using a "thermo stripe" that lasts longer and is easier to see at night. 

District 4 Commission Jim Borden said his crews are working every day that it is not raining. 

"We have a lot to do in District 3, not just from right of way maintenance, brush, mowing, to pothole repairs," he said. "Things are coming for District 3, but it is just such a massive amount to do, it is taking some time to get my ideas put down on paper to see what I need to do next. 

"But our day-to-day pothole repairs, we are working every single day. The spraying, we got it completed. I was a little bit short, so I am going to try to address that, probably another 15 miles in the district. I need to procure the chemicals for that. Other than that, the guys are out working every day for the citizens of District 3." 

Aderholt said he wanted to end that discussion on a positive note. "I am thankful Walker County has the lowest property tax of any county in the continental United States," he said. 

Miller said there are many roads in the county and "as a contractor, you see those costs go up, up, up." Asphalt products are increasing, "and you see that at the pump every day," he added. 

He said Borden "came into this with a lot of roads and a lot of things to do, and a lot of folks calling him every day, and him getting a lot of messages through here about needing their road paved. And everybody's road is the most important in the county, certainly. But as we see Mr. Borden patching and actually working in this new patching machine and going, we appreciate that work."