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September 18, 2012 - 9:52pm

Highway superintendent provides review of funding challenges and department highlights

posted by Howard B. Owens in County Highways, tim hens.

County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens made a presentation Monday to the Public Service Committee.  We asked him to write a summary of his presenation to go along with the slide show he created.

Click here to view the slide show.

Here's Tim's message:

I took time from my annual department review yesterday to make a presentation that focused on some of the funding challenges we face as well as some of the brighter highlights from the year so far.

The initial portion of the presentation focused on the difference between capital improvements and preventative maintenance.  Generally speaking, a capital improvement is a significant improvement or total reconstruction of the roadway, whereas preventative maintenance is only a surface treatment or temporary improvement meant to extend the service life of the underlying pavement.  Preventative maintenance is used to keep "good roads good" and it is the best bang for the buck when applied at the appropriate time.  If you were to plot a line of pavement conditions over time, it would gradually drop, and after about 7-8 years, it would start to fall away quite quickly.  The goal with preventative maintenance is to catch the pavement before that line starts to get too steep.  That way we can take a typical 15 year pavement life and extend it out to maybe 30-35 years before it needs a capital improvement, which is very expensive in comparison.

The next phase of the conversation moved on to the cost of materials and construction in general.  Higher material prices have impacted both preventative maintenance and capital improvement costs, limiting the amount of work that can be performed each year.

The presentation then moved back to a quick overview of techniques that are used for preventative maintenance, a comparison of their costs, and a comparison of what was performed in 2012 versus what we should be doing to improve the condition ratings of our system.  As it stands we are generally treading water with our highway system and we are losing ground with regard to our bridges, especially the shorter span bridges which are not eligible for federal aid.  Tighter budgets as a result of unfunded mandates on the county and increasing material prices (mostly due to the cost of oil) are requiring the county to defer maintenance and improvements.  For every dollar deferred, the county will need to spend between $4 and $6 to get the same result (road condition) down the road.  We are falling further and further behind.

When is comes to bridges; the deficencies are significant.  The county owns and maintains 341 bridges.  Of these bridges, only 95 are eligible for federal aid.  The remainder are completely reliant upon local funding and very limited state aid.  More than half the bridges were built prior to 1960 and 53% of the bridges are considered functionally obsolete or structurally deficient by federal standards.  Our average bridge condition rating stands at 4.98 (out of 7) where anything below a 5 is considered in poor condition.  The cost just to support federal aid subsidized replacements is likely to exceed $600,000 per year if we replace the two bridges per year to stay ahead of the deterioration.  Factoring in the cost to replace short-span bridges and the total cost over the next ten years is likely to exceed $10-15 million.  The county currently does not have the capability to fund this need .

The Highway Department will be engaging engineering consultants this winter to analyze the inventory of short span structures the county owns, develop a plan of attack and design a few cookie-cutter solutions so that some of these smaller bridges may be replaced in-house to save money.  There is a need to bond some of the replacments over the long-term so that future taxpayers who will benefit from today's improvements may share in the cost as well.

Some quick slides were shown on the cost of Snow & Ice Control for the county.  A majority of county milage is plowed by Town Highway Departments under contract.  The contract rate is determined using a formula based off the three year average snowfall for the area.  The warm winter in 2011-12 adjusted this rate significantly and the proposed rate to the Towns for the 2012-13 season is much lower.  A quick history of rate adjustments waas presented; as well as a slide showing the limited amount of overtime expended by the county versus what was budgeted as a result of the warm weather.

The presentation ended with a few slides of the DeWitt Recreation Area and the improvements made there as a result of the open winter and available labor and equipment from the Highway Department.

Dave Olsen
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Joined: Oct 12 2008 - 11:48am

Very informative, Mr. Hens thanks for that. I'm going to guess that part of the "Cookie Cutter solutions" will involve closing some bridges due to low traffic volume. It doesn't look like there's much choice. I don't know who decides the formula for the contracted snow plowing and salt with the towns, but I'd think a 5 or even 10 year average would be a better indicator. If funds are unused like last winter, then that should go to fund road repairs. The bridges all over this state are horrendous, I travel quite a bit. One of these days and it won't be long, a bridge is going to fall somewhere in NYS, and then it'll be an epic free-for-all for all the d-bags in Albany to point fingers and demand that repairs and maintenance be funded. Heads in the sand.

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