Highway department addresses county road conditions

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By Fred Woods
Editor

A road paved with an asphalt surface will normally last 15 to 20 years before it needs resurfacing. In a recent review of county roads’ status, County Engineer Justin Hardee told the Lee County Commission, “Lee County is struggling to stay on a 57-year resurfacing cycle for its . That means that if the roads in front of your house was just paved today, it would be worn out and full of potholes in 20 years at best. If you had a lot of heavy truck traffic it would be closer to 15 years. However the county would not be able to resurface your road for an additional 37 years.
This impossible cycle is why the county commission has adopted a policy of not paving any additional roads; the county simply cannot maintain its present paved roads. There’s no point in making a bad situation worse. (Unless you have lived on a dirt road all your life.)
Hardee added that virtually no one in the nation is meeting the 20-year resurfacing cycle. This is just one of the reasons that maintaining infrastructure is one of the chief problems facing the United States today.
This article deals only with Lee County roads. State and federal highways are a separate matter, handled by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). These include such roads as AL 14, AL 47,  AL 51, A1 69, US 29, US 80, US 280 and US 431.
For Lee County to attain the optimum cycle, we would need to resurface 33.65 miles every year at an average annual cost of $7.4 million. At present we pave, each year, 11.8 miles with the $2.6 million available to us from local and federal dollars. So where can Lee County come up with the additional $4.8 million?
Lee County, as does every county in the state, receives a federal allocation of $533,000 each year through the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). These funds require a local match of $133,250, a 20{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} match, or a total of $666,250. However, these dollars can only be used on roads functionally classified as “major collectors.” Of Lee County’s 673 miles of paved roads only 167.2 miles, or 24.8 {44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}, are classed as major collectors and almost half (49.2{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) are in District 4.
Lee County is also a member of two Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the Auburn-Opelika MPO and the Columbus-Phenix City MPO. Including the county’s required match, we receive about $437,500 combined from these MPOs but these monies must be spent on roads within the respective MPOs. And since these are federal dollars, they, too, must be spent on roads classified as major collectors or higher.     For the rest of Lee County’s roads, all 506 miles, there’s local money, with just one exception: one-time funding of $9.7 million (plus a required match of just under $2.5 million) to fund specific resurfacing projects not eligible for federal funds. The total investment of $12.150 million will resurface 41.56 miles of Lee roads when completed. (Lee County actually got $30 million in ATRIP funds – almost $38 million counting the local match — but the larger portion is earmarked for projects other than road resurfacing.)
The ATRIP program, financed by bonds backed by future allocations of Federal aid monies, plowed $1,000,000,000 into Alabama’s 67 counties for road and bridge projects. It was the second largest transportation funding program in Alabama history, surpassed only by Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom’s Farm-To-Market Road Program in the early 1950s, which plowed more than $5.5 billion (in today’s dollars) into the state economy.
Road resurfacing is an expensive proposition. Due to stricter requirements, it costs more to resurface with federal funds than with local dollars. In 2014 the average cost to resurface one mile with federal funds was $255,470. To resurface one mile with local funds was $200,000.
With resurfacing money so limited it is critical that the county has a good prioritization program in place. ALDOT grades all roads eligible for federal funding (a requirement) and an additional 100 miles, with 406 miles graded by county highway personnel using the same standards.
A weighted prioritization formula is then used with the grade of the road worth 80{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} and the traffic load getting 20{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} to assure that the roads in the worst condition (lowest score) get the highest priority for resurfacing.
Lee County has 139.6 miles of road with a grade of 70 or less (really bad). Of these, 82.3 miles (59{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) are in commission district 4; 33.7 miles (24.1{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) are in district 5; 18.8 miles (13.5{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) in district 3 and 4.8 miles (3.4{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) are in district 1. All roads in district 2, primarily an urban district, scored above 70.
Remember, only 7.5 miles of these, the worst roads in Lee County, can be resurfaced next year. It will take us until sometime in 2033 to get around to all of them and who knows how many more miles will have been added to the list by then. Unless we can figure out a way to get more resources. That means increasd taxes. What are the odds of this?

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