Barton County is crisscrossed with 389 miles of paved roads, ranking it fourth among the 105 counties in state in terms of asphalt blacktops.
This is both a blessing and a curse, Barton County Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips told the County Commission Monday morning. It is good for residents but costly to maintain.
Phillips’ report came as his department begins its annual campaign to keep these roads in tip-top shape. Patching is underway, and the chip sealing or repaving will begin around Aug. 1.
“It takes a lot of planning,” Phillips said.
Phillips gave the commission an overview of plans to rework 80-some miles of roads mostly in the northeast quadrant of the county this summer.
In addition to filling potholes, the roads have to be broomed (or swept) prior to any surface work, Phillips said. Then comes the spreading of oil, rock and/or asphalt, all of which have to be compacted with giant rollers.
All this will be followed by the painting of center and road-edge lines, as well as railroad crossing markers, all of which includes the application of fine glass beads for reflectivity. The county hires a company for this.
Each mile will be closed to traffic while the work is being done. But, crews can cover six miles in one day.
Most roads are on a four- or five-year rotation for re-sealing, Phillips said. Some high-traffic roads are redone every three years, depending on funding availability.
This comes with a high cost, Phillips said. “People use the roads, but it takes money to keep them this way.”
Factoring in materials, labor and painting, it costs $15,000 per mile for the undertaking. Prices are holding steady from last year, Phillips said.
Originally, the most recent five-year cycle called for around 80 miles to be redone this year. However, “we are currently behind in our operations,” Phillips said.
Due to costs and other issues, not all the roads scheduled for 2014 were completed. So, Road and Bridge hopes to pick them up this time around if the funding is there.
This maintenance is crucial because “its maintains the integrity of the road bed,” Phillips said. The sealing keeps water from seeping through the surface and causing cracks that lead to potholes.
“This is going to be a difficult budget,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. With decreases in tax and other revenues, money will be tight.
Furthermore, the road department has the biggest share of the county budget. But, the slow economy will turn around, Schartz said.
She realizes this is a lot of money, but it costs less in the long run to keep up what the county has than to let it deteriorate and have to replace it later. Maintaining county roads is one of our basic duties for a county government.
“We don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish,” she said. If the county abandons paved roads for gravel, “we’ll never get them back.”
For budget and coordinating purposes, Phillips said planning starts a year or more in advance. Sand, rock and asphalt have to be ordered, all of which is in high demand.
In 2014, Barton County used 25,982 tons of asphalt.