County officials are looking at a big cost to repair roads that fell victim to an especially brutal spring thaw.
After investigating and repairing what they could, highway superintendent Benji Boyd told the commissioners Tuesday during their regular meeting, held at the Pantheon, 428 Main St., that he has prioritized — and shortened — the list of most-damaged roads but that the estimated cost to repair all of them is $1.3 million, down only slightly from the original estimate of $1.7 million.
Boyd first warned the commissioners of extensive road damage in March. The arrival of spring-like weather is usually never kind to county roads, and this year proved to bring even more problems than usual.
Potholes form as a result of the expansion and contraction during freeze-thaw water cycles. Cracks often appear in late winter and early spring because of changing temperatures; the constant freezing and thawing of melting snow, combined with spring rain, weakens the pavement and leads to cracks and potholes.
Traffic, especially heavy traffic, makes it worse.
Boyd said county roads, especially several to the north, have sustained “considerable” and unexpected damage.
“And it’s above and beyond what we can fix within our budget,” he said. “These are roads we didn’t expect to have to fix other than normal patch work.”
Commissioner Kellie Streeter said she’s met with Boyd in recent weeks in an effort to whittle down his list; 12 roads still remain, she said Tuesday.
Boyd, too, said he’s already spent about three times the amount on patching as he would in a normal year. It’s been difficult, he said, to keep up with damage the winter thaw has caused.
Adding insult to injury, Streeter pointed out, has been a drop in revenue, monies set aside specifically for road repair.
The highway department is largely funded by the state’s gas tax, paid by motorists at the pump, and since Hoosiers largely stopped traveling during the stay-at-home order, those monthly payments have been significantly reduced. Boyd saw a 35% drop in revenue this summer.
“It’s really a double whammy,” Streeter said.
The commissioners will need to seek an additional appropriation for the road funds, which means a trip to the county council to request one.
The county council, in an attempt to scrimp and save due to the uncertainty of how much damage COVID-19 will wreak on revenue over the next couple of years, have said they are unlikely to approve any additional budget requests, but the commissioners believe they have no choice.
The roads must be fixed, they agree.
“I don’t know another way than to visit the council,” said commissioner T.J. Brink, “and begin talking about an additional appropriation, as much as I don’t want to.
“These roads aren’t getting any better, and I don’t know another way.”
The commissioners may, however, end up with the funds necessary to pave the roads — and then some. While much is still uncertain about how much money counties and municipalities will see as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, some is coming, possibly as much as $4 million for the commissioners alone.
County attorney Andrew Porter said the first distribution of funds is set to come on May 11, although it’s still uncertain, too, exactly how those funds can be spent.
Either way, the commissioners agreed a conversation with the council, the county’s fiscal body, is necessary.
“We just have to go to them and say, ‘Here is what we need to undo this damage,’ ” said commission president Trent Hinkle. “At least that way they’re aware of it.”