County moves money to pay for roads and bridges

Wood County Commissioners Craig LaHote, Doris Herringshaw and Ted Bowlus talk about road and bridge funding.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

In March, Wood County Engineer John Musteric reported that the county’s roads and bridges were in dire condition. They suffered from too many repairs needed and not enough funding.

That announcement sent the Wood County Commissioners on a search for county funds that could be moved over for road and bridge improvements. And on Monday, the commissioners reported that they had come up with nearly $6.5 million to be used during the next five years to build and repair county bridges and roads.

“We look forward to much progress in improving our roads and bridges,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said during a press conference announcing the funding.
Herringshaw said it was clear that the county engineer’s office would never catch up with road and bridge repairs under the current funding system. The commissioners agreed earlier this year to enact a new $5 vehicle license fee, with the revenue going to road and bridge work. But Herringshaw said it was clear that wouldn’t generate enough funding to meet the needs.
The county roads and bridges are at a crisis, Musteric said this past spring. “We’ve been in a crisis mode for a long time. We’ve got so much to take care of and maintain.”

The county has 245 miles of roads to maintain, plus 441 bridges with an average age of 41 years. More than 20 bridges have passed the century mark, with the granddaddy of them all being the 133-year-old bridge on Custar Road south of Sand Ridge Road.“We’re way behind, way behind,” Musteric said in March.

But the newly found funding will help, he said Monday.

The road and bridge funding will come from the following sources:

– One-time transfer of $1.8 million from Wood County Building Inspection cash balance.

– One-time transfer of $300,000 from the conveyance fee that funds county economic development.

– One-time transfer of $100,000 from the Wood County Clerk of Courts’ auto title fund.

– $200,000 each year for five years from county sales tax revenue.

– $650,000 annually from the new $5 vehicle license fee.

Musteric said much of the funding will be spent on the road and bridge needs south of U.S. 6, where safety has become an issue.
“These are your roads. I’m here to protect them and improve them,” he said.

Nearly three-quarters of the county’s road conditions are currently rated marginal or lower. Nearly half of those are ranked as poor or serious. Bringing those roads up to fair condition would cost an estimated $39 million.

The county engineer’s office is studying pavement preservation practices. The lifespan of average pavement is 25 years. To catch up, the county would need to pave 35 miles every year – costing about $10.3 million each year. Instead, the county has been spending about $1.1 million a year on paving.

When it comes to bridges, the county plans to replace four this year, costing about $1.2 million. That is just a drop in the bucket, with 441 bridges in Wood County. More than half are over 50 years old, and 52 bridges are ranked in poor or worse shape. The cost to replace those 52 would add up to $20.8 million, Musteric said.

At the pace the county is going, it would take 90 years to replace all the bridges.

The big roadblock to paving and bridge repairs has been the lack of funding. The customary funding for the county engineer’s office comes from the state gas tax, license plate fees and a smaller portion from traffic fines.

“It’s just a struggle because the gas tax hasn’t been raised,” Musteric said about the state tax. “We’re at their mercy.”

After the announcement by the commissioners on Monday, Musteric thanked the county commissioners, the clerk of courts, the economic development commission, the voters, and “everybody who spends money in Wood County” since that generates sales tax revenue.

The county engineer also vowed to continue trying to cut costs and find other funding.

“We will continue to try to find money from other sources,” he said.

Wood County Clerk of Courts Cindy Hofner said sharing revenue from the auto title fund with the roads and bridges just seemed to make sense.

“We felt these fees need to come back to the citizens of Wood County for the roads we are traveling on,” Hofner said.

The large cash balance in the county building inspection office was generated by permit fees. With three large-scale industrial projects being announced in Wood County within the past four months, the commissioners expect the permit revenue will again outpace expenditures for 2018.

The construction climate in Wood County continues to be robust, so the commissioners believed that putting surplus revenue to work repairing and building roads and bridges was an good investment in the county.

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