County engineer raises red flags on roads

The latest Washington County engineer’s report says the county’s roads and bridges are in good shape overall, but additional funding is needed to make sure they stay that way.

“We only have good roads because we have an aggressive maintenance plan,” county Engineer Roger Wright said.

Replacement of bridges and roads has been dialed back a bit in recent years as the cost of materials has risen and funding to the engineer’s office has been reduced. The biggest decrease came when commissioners voted to divert funds from the 1 percent permissive sales tax to other uses in 2010, replacing them with an additional $5 license fee that brought in about a third of the revenue the department received from the sales tax, Wright said.

Wright, who has worked for the county for 14 years and was elected engineer last year, said he understands why that had to be done. But in the annual report recently submitted to commissioners on the department’s 2012 activities, he says he will “continue to advocate for the return of 1 (percent) sales tax funds as originally intended, while seeking alternative funding.”

Commissioners contacted Tuesday indicated their support for increasing the money for road and bridge maintenance in some way.

“I think that that is something that we would consider during the budget process for sure,” Commissioner Tim Irvine said. “I take his concerns seriously.”

Irvine noted the commissioners did increase the share of the permissive sales tax going to townships for road maintenance from 15 percent to 24 percent for this year.

Commissioner Ron Feathers said he wants to see the townships stabilized but also supports sending more money to the engineer’s office.

“We do recognize that we are living on an aged infrastructure,” he said. “They have done a marvelous job maintaining those over the years.”

In his report, Wright notes the original intent of the 1 percent permissive sales tax was primarily to fund road and bridge maintenance, with 85 percent of the revenue dedicated to that when the tax was enacted in 1983. From 1983 to 2009, nearly $37 million was allocated to the engineer’s office from the permissive sales tax.

“I don’t think we can go back to 85-15, but what we’re looking for is more of a 50-50 division,” Wright said Tuesday.

The engineer’s budget was about $6.38 million in 2008, plus an additional $1.84 million in permissive sales tax funds. In 2009, those amounts dropped to $5.77 million and $873,000, respectively.

Since 2009, the office’s budget has grown each year but without any permissive sales tax accompanying it. This year, it is expected to be flat, thanks to an anticipated decrease in gasoline tax revenues that Wright hopes will be offset by a slight increase in license fees. Those funds are the primary sources of the department’s revenue.

“We’re starting to finally trend back up, but in the meantime, the cost of living has gone up from 2008 to 2012, the cost of materials has gone up from 2008 to 2012,” Wright said.

The office does try whenever possible to obtain additional funding from state and federal grants, Wright said.

The report also outlines the conditions of the county’s roads and bridges. According to the report, more than 97 percent of the roads in the county are in good or excellent condition. Less than 2.7 percent are labeled fair and less than a 10th of a percent – about a 10th of a mile – are considered poor. None fall into the serious, critical or out of service categories.

Forty-six percent of bridges in the county are labeled in good condition, with 98.4 percent labeled fair or better. Six are considered poor, and five of them are slated for replacement, at least two this year.

The biggest planned project for the engineer’s office in 2013 is replacement of the Archers Fork Bridge at the intersection of Washington County 14 and Ohio 26. Almost $57,000 in local funds will be spent on the project; the rest of the $1.1 million tab will be paid by federal funds and Ohio Department of Transportation bridge credits.

The Baker Bridge on Washington County 9 is scheduled for replacement this year at a cost of $147,846, paid solely from local funds. If funds are available, the Stevens Bridge on Aurelius Township 75 will be replaced for $200,000, as well as the Ferrebee Bridge on Washington County 4 for $172,000.

The Ward Bridge on Washington County 14 is expected to be done next year, with the engineer’s office bearing 5 percent of the nearly $272,000 cost.

The sixth bridge is on Independence Township Road 920. Wright said it only serves one household and still has some useful years left with continued inspections and maintenance.

The department plans $1.2 million to $1.4 million in paving projects this year, depending on the number of landslips and other repairs that are needed. The largest on the list is a four-mile section of Highland Ridge Road, from Rollyson Road to Ohio 530.