Officials discuss county paving plans as spring nears

Spring will be here soon and as the weather warms discussions have started about what roads could be paved this year using local funding.

County officials hope to use around $1 million in local funding for paving this year, but what roads will be paved has not yet been finalized.

Discussions on paving priorities for this year began during the Feb. 16 Brown County Commissioners meeting when Highway Superintendent Mike Magner said he and the commissioners need to start thinking about what roads would be paved.

According to a draft road improvement plan for 2021-2023 that Magner presented last year, more than 20 miles of additional county roads will be paved this year using local funds from the highway department’s budget. Local funding includes money from gas and excise taxes through the state and the wheel tax you pay when you register vehicles in Brown County.

Roads on the schedule for this year — which is subject to change based on road conditions — include portions of: Lanam Ridge Road (4.15 miles); Woodland Lake Road (2 miles); Hurdle Road (2 miles); Spearsville Road (2 miles); Three Story Hill Road (3.4 miles); Parkview Road (1 mile); Hornettown Road (3.5 miles); and Owl Creek Road (2.5 miles).

The commissioners have not finalized that list.

Milestone Contractors will pave Clay Lick and Helmsburg roads this year, which will be funded by $1 million in Community Crossings grant funding through the Indiana Department of Transportation. The grant requires a match of 25 percent of the money awarded, up to $1 million.

At the Feb. 16 and March 2 commissioners meetings, Magner said he had not heard updates on when the grant money will be available, but as soon as the county receives a purchase order confirmation paving could proceed at that point.

Last fall, the commissioners awarded contracts to pave a little over 12 miles that was paid for by local funding. Paving done last year included: One mile of the Old State Road 46 “business loop” in Gnaw Bone; one mile of Old 46 from Nashville to the Brown County State Park; nearly a mile of Oak Grove Road off of Country Club Road; three miles of Bear Wallow Hill Road; over two miles of Three Notch Road; and over one mile of Ford Ridge Road.

Dave O’Mara Contractors Inc. was awarded the contract to pave Four Mile Ridge Road last fall and paving is expected to happen this spring once the ground dries. Magner said on March 2 that crews had done some repairs to that road and were out patching on March 1.

“We’ll get that started, but it is way too wet. If we tried to bring in 100 tri-axles right now it would destroy everything as soon as they left the highway,” Magner said of paving Four Mile Ridge.

As grant-funded paving is set to begin, Magner presented an updated road improvement plan to the commissioners on March 2 showing what roads have been paved so far along with the tentative list of what could be paved this year.

“If you want to go through that list, see if you have any other ones you might want to move up on the priority list, give suggestions and then we will have to re-assess priorities,” Magner said.

“We still have around 110 miles that have not been paved yet, but that is compared to about 240.”

Commissioner Diana Biddle noted that when they put together a paving plan in 2015 roads had not been paved in three years. The highway department budget at that time also had $10,000 set aside for paving when it costs between $100,000 and $120,000 to pave one mile, Magner said.

Pothole problems

As the weather warms and rain clears away the snow and ice, more potholes have developed on county roads. Magner said his crews had been working to haul rock to gravel roads and patch potholes throughout the county.

The wet ground affects how quickly potholes can be filled and gravel roads can be graded.

“I know there are a lot of concerns about the state of our roads right now,” Commissioner Jerry Pittman said March 2.

“People are going to have to understand, as we already said in this meeting, that the ground, the freeze and thaw we have had, has made everything very, very soft. Our gravel roads are really too wet to grade yet. We will have more potholes before we have less in the pavement due to freeze and thaw. It will take time to get that all caught up.”

Pittman said he knows residents do not enjoy having potholes on their roads.

“In a rural county there are a lot of gravel roads and it is kind of part of the equation of being here. I am sure we will do the best we can,” he said.

“People will have to be patient with timing to get all of these potholes filled. I think we are in better shape than we have been in many years due to the paving we have done, but there is still going to be maintenance to do. Hopefully things will get done a little faster now that we have more people, so be patient. They’re doing the best we can right now.”

During the last two commissioners meetings, Magner said he will have more drivers to help with road maintenance this year as the staffing situation at the highway department also continues to improve with more drivers continuing to be hired. He said on March 2 that he had received 15 applications for openings at the department.

The department hired one driver who worked through the winter storm early February and recently hired another. Magner said that four more candidates were going to be formally offered the driver positions after completing background and pre-employment drug screens.

He also has another person willing to mow this year.

“This is very promising. We could have pretty much every slot filled except for the assistant superintendent within a month, which hasn’t happened the entire time I’ve been here,” Magner said.

“Most of these guys already live in the county. With fuel costs, they cannot afford to drive to north side of Indy to work. … A lot of them have experience.”

Magner said he had another potential candidate stop into his office asking about working there along with interviewing other potential candidates who do not have their CDLs yet.

“A couple of them we will encourage them to go ahead and start the process,” Magner said.

The process to get a CDL will be extended following a new federal license requirement that went into effect last month. Anyone who gets their CDL permit now will have to go through extended schooling, which Magner said is a minimum of 70 to 80 hours taught by a certified instructor.

He said he could become a certified instructor, but that there is not enough time in his schedule to dedicate to teaching a two week course.

“It has to be in-person classroom time. If it worked out where we could host a class once a year or Bartholomew host a class once a year to where we could help each other would be a big help. But it is going to be a major problem,” Magner said.

“There is a driver shortage anyways and now they’ve made it much more complicated.”