DARKE COUNTY — The Darke County Highway Department spent $5,285,094.09 on roads and bridges in the county in 2015, according to a report released by Darke County Engineer Jim Surber.
The engineer’s annual report shows the revenue the county’s road department received for the year, where it was spent, and what was maintained, constructed, purchased, and improved.
In the report, Surber says 2015 began with “harsh winter conditions, continued with a wet summer, but ended with an excellent late summer, fall and early winter.”
Surber calls a modest increase in Ohio fuel tax receipts and greatly reduced fuel costs the “most noteworthy events of the year,” pointing out that while fuel tax revenue increased by $181,870, motor license revenue decreased by $102,159, and the county spent nearly $188,000 less than in 2014 purchasing fuel for county departments.
The county engineer also cites depressed scrap metal prices and an extremely mild beginning of winter impacted usual receipts for recycling and salt sales.
“The effect of all these factors was a total net revenue increase of $91,695, or 1.7 percent,” he said.
Surber says that the department reduced expenditures $169,556 from 2014, finishing in the black by $38,251 which is about three-quarters of 1 percent of the total budget.
“Our 26 personnel do a great job keeping up with our road and bridge responsibilities, in spite of trimming resources to further stretch revenues,” he said. “We now use only five mowing tractors to cover 1,042 lane-miles. Our two bridge crews built two new bridges and rehabilitated and repaired ten others. The crack-seal crew operates every day that weather permits, and we have increased strip-seal and patching operations in response to aging pavements which directly relate to insufficient revenue for total asphalt resurfacing. We are gearing up to do more patching and full chip seal with our own personnel in the coming years.”
“The challenges we face of obligations versus revenue are shared by township trustees, villages and cities,” he added.
The department contracted asphalt resurfacing to Walls Brothers Asphalt on 10 different county roads totaling 23.35 miles, which was a little more than 4 percent of Darke County’s 521 miles of road.
Surber says, “Due to the combination of stagnant revenue and a high mileage, we are now forced to use surface sealing in order to prevent degradation of pavements by age and freeze-thaw. This process covers over three times the surface area per unit cost of paving. Chip-seal was applied to 13.98 miles in cooperation with the Mercer County Engineer and on 7.12 miles, through a contract with Wagner Paving.”
“It is certain that without additional funding, the use of surface sealing will only increase in the coming years,” he said. “We truly appreciate the cooperative effort extended by the Mercer County Engineer and personnel.”
The report states that 44.45 total miles of road were improved, which is 8.5 percent of the county’s total mileage (520.997), or about a 12-year cycle.
Resurfacing costs averaged $57,112 per mile and surface sealing costs averaged $15,287 per mile.
Total paving and sealing costs for the year were $1,656,108.76, which Surber adds were “all paid by local revenue.”
The county contracted the application of 26.86 miles of new centerline and no-passing markings and 41.63 lane miles of white edge lines with A & A Safety Co. at a cost of $20,353.58.
The average cost was $326 per road mile for yellow markings and $557 per road mile for white edge lines.
An additional grant project, applied for in 2010, was completed in 2015 by the same contractor for painting centerline and no-passing markings on 311.29 miles of road, and included the installation of thermoplastic markings at six railroad and school locations. The cost of this contract was $128,356.00.
County employees sealed pavement cracks on 33.4 miles of roads during the year, using 75.2 tons of sealant at an average rate of 4,502 pounds per mile. The material cost averaged $2,071 per mile.
In 2015, the county provided $25,045 in labor and equipment to 16 different townships at no charge, and $13,095 to five townships which was reimbursed.
County workers replaced five roadway culverts and seven subsurface tile crossings on seven roads in five different townships. The trustees of five townships (Richland, Wayne, Twin, Harrison and Monroe) furnished asphalt resurfacing for six new or rehabilitated bridges on their roads during the year.
The Darke County Engineer also received a grant through the state to upgrade warning signs on nine identified road curves throughout the county. The grant provided signs and posts with the county furnishing all labor and equipment to remove, replace and add new signs. The total monetary amount received was $7,200.
In late summer, county workers performed a project on Jaysville-St. Johns Road to remove and reconstruct 2,350 feet of deficient guardrail six feet further from the road, eliminating a safety concern for the passage of large farm equipment. Total cost of the additional right-of-way, earth moving, new guardrail, drainage and seeding was $74,893.67.
The office also donated engineering, design and inspection services to the Darke County Park District for the construction of the shared-use trail between Willis Road and Ohio Route 571. Surber says the county is currently in the design stage of Phase IV of this project to continue on to the City of Greenville.
Bridge construction, rehab
Surber reports that county bridge crews built two new bridges, rehabilitated and repaired nine others, performed maintenance on two, and one new bridge was constructed by contract in 2015. All design and construction was by Darke County personnel, and all funding for these projects was 100 percent local, except as noted.
The costs shown (in parentheses) include additions for overhead on labor materials as mandated by Ohio law and the State Auditor’s policies for force account bridges built after July 1, 2003.
In 2015, the county constructed new bridges on Verona-Pitsburg ($81,279.81) and Littles ($69,620.45) Roads in Monroe and Twin Townships. Both were galvanized steel-beam superstructures with timber decks on new capped-pile abutments. All work, including steel fabrication, was completed by Darke County personnel with construction in June and July 2015. Both new decks were waterproofed and the new asphalt surfaces were furnished by the respective boards of trustees.
County crews rehabilitated three steel-truss bridges at Wolf ($23,907.33), Duncan ($48,569.76) and Riffle ($95,939.68) Roads by removing the old asphalt wearing course and timber deck, replacing structural steel where necessary, cleaning and recoating where necessary, and installation of new timber decks with waterproofing and new asphalt wearing surfaces. On the two township road bridges, new asphalt surfaces were furnished by the trustees of Wayne and Richland Townships.
Two bridges on Gibbs Road ($22,573.00 and $4,713.49) in Harrison Township were improved. One had strengthening of the beam fascias with steel and concrete reinforcement and a new concrete composite deck, and the other was waterproofed with a new asphalt wearing surface. Two bridges on Pitsburg-Laura ($10,616.87) and Lightsville-Northern ($16,962.31) Roads were rehabilitated by reconstructing the deck sides and rails, and the bridge on Lightsville-Northern Road was widened from 20 to 24 feet. The bridge on Woodens Road ($4,552.69) was stripped and recoated.
For three-span concrete slab bridge and concrete deck on steel beam bridges on New Madison-Coletown ($45,815.41) and Red River-West Grove ($42,555.31) Roads, county workers removed the asphalt overburden, removed all deteriorated concrete from the deck edges and placed new concrete in stay-in-place forms. Waterproofing and a new asphalt surface completed the projects.
A new bridge was constructed by Tumbusch Construction through an Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC) project with the Greenville Township Trustees on Horatio-Harris Creek Road between Ohio Routes 49 and 118. The engineer’s office provided the design and coordination for the 1.38-mile road reconstruction and widening project that began in late 2014 and was completed in 2015 at a total cost of $525,863. The county’s cost portion was $19,675.09.
In all, the 2015 costs for the two new bridges and ten rehabilitations total $467,106.11. The total materials and services purchased was $283,942.44. Actual labor and fringe costs were $150.218.00.
The total county cost was $434,160.44, which includes materials for four bridges in 2016.
Surber says that with its large number of bridges (531), Darke County ranks first in Ohio and tenth in the entire nation for bridge responsibility.
“Our bridge program is limited by funding and state laws that limit construction by county workers,” he said. “We continue to rehabilitate older bridges to extend their service, and replace deficient bridges under 40-foot spans to stay in compliance with the $100,000 county force account limitation.”
Of Darke County’s 531 bridges, 378 (71.1 percent) are rated as “excellent” by the state. Bridges rated as “good” number 133 (25 percent) and 16 (3 percent) rate as “fair.” Four bridges (0.7 percent) rate as “poor.”
Surber explained that of the four bridges in “poor” condition, “one is an historic structure on a township road, one is limited to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, one is a closed bridge in an incorporated village, and the fourth will be replaced in 2016.”
Maintenance, funding a challenge
“A summary of the roads and bridges of all Ohio counties shows that our challenge is very clear,” said Surber. “The average Ohio county has 329 miles of road, 297 bridges and is funded by $5.1 million in state fuel and license taxes. Darke County has 521 miles of road, 531 bridges and is funded by $4.7 million. We have 68 percent more responsibility with 8 percent less state funding than the average county.”
“With the state funding disparity is also a local factor,” he said. “Most Ohio counties have locally-generated revenue for roads and bridges, either by permissive license fees, road and bridge levies, or a portion of local sales tax revenue. Darke County spends no local funds on county or township roads and bridges.”
“In 1975, the Darke County Commissioners resolved to obligate a portion of a new local sales tax to roads; and in 1976 they provided $130,000, or 30 percent of annual receipts ($455,355) to the county engineer and 20 boards of township trustees. Another board of commissioners stopped this revenue stream in 1993, and since then, no sales tax revenue has funded county or township roads, even though local county sales tax annual receipts ($7.9 million) are currently over 17 times greater than in 1976.”
“Our most difficult challenge is maintaining 521 miles of asphalt pavement surfaces,” he said. “With no local revenue and no increase in funding from state lawmakers, we are forced to use alternative methods to total ‘hot mix’ asphalt resurfacing. Our decisions and actions must always be in the best interest of the roads and bridges.”
Those wishing to see the complete report may contact the Darke County Engineer’s Office by phone at 937-547-7375.
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4314. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.