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Budget forces road improvement changes

Harrison County residents may have noticed that the road they live on or one they travel on has been treated differently this year with chip and seal or a rejuvenating fog seal instead of the usual repaving of asphalt. And there’s a reason for that.
Financially, the county didn’t have a choice but to make a change or continue operating the same way and eventually use up all of the Harrison County Highway Dept.’s savings fund and see its yearly riverboat gaming dollars’ reach become shorter and shorter because of the constantly rising cost of asphalt.
When the county began receiving riverboat gaming funds nearly 15 years ago, it immediately began paving miles and miles of county roads each year until this year, when a new board of commissioners was faced with a financial black hole and decided to attempt to turn it around.
The county’s motor-vehicle highway fund was in the red nearly $400,000 in 2008, $204,000 in 2009, $378,000 in 2010 and $366,000 last year (the fund was in the black in 2012 after much of the budget was moved to riverboat). Harrison County Engineer Kevin Russel projected, if it continued the same operating philosophy, the fund would have cost $500,000 more than revenue this year and that’s not including nearly $400,000 that was budgeted in the riverboat funds.
The county now has 784 miles of paved road. Using a 10-year cycle, Russel said the county would have to pave about 79 miles per year to keep up at a cost of $4.7 million, according to 2013 dollars. The cost to pave 79 miles in 2003 was just $2.4 million.
‘What will it be in 2023?’ Russel asked.
So, while the cost of asphalt continues to rise, the amount of riverboat funding the county receives is capped and never changes.
‘Every additional mile of gravel road we pave worsens this situation,’ Russel said.
Russel said a road gains 10 years of life when it is repaved, five years of life when it is chipped and sealed and four years of life with the rejuvenating fog seal.
Chip and seal is the most common, and cheapest, form of pavement preservation. It uses the same ingredients as asphalt concrete paving, but the construction method is different. With chip seals, a thin film of heated asphalt liquid is sprayed on the road surface, followed by the placement of small chips or aggregate. The chips are then compacted to orient the chips for maximum adherence to the asphalt, and excess stone is swept from the surface. Chip and sealing increases friction, prevents aging, seals cracks and waterproofs the roadway.
Fog seal rejuvenation makes the asphalt softer and less susceptible to cracks. It replenishes the asphalt’s oils and helps water run-off and extends the life of the surface. The method is still in the early stages of use and will be evaluated accordingly, Russel said. If it turns out to be better than chip and seal, as Russel said he expects, then it will take on a larger role in the budget plans.
With a combined effort of paving (344 miles), rejuvenating fog seal (288) and chip and seal (192), the county treated or will treat 824 miles this year. If all of that money ($3.4 million) was spent on paving only, as was the practice in the past, it would have covered only 559 miles, Russel said.
‘By including chip seal/fog seal and rejuvenating fog seal in our program, we generate more service life each year than we lose, and our overall pavement condition will improve over time,’ he said. ‘If we were to use all the funding we used in 2013 for HMA (hot mix asphalt) paving only, we would lose more service life each year than we gain and our overall pavement condition would decline over time.’
Russel said the highway department knew the plan wouldn’t be popular with residents, but it’s what had to be done based on the budget.
The commissioners also restructured the highway department, causing some former foremen to be demoted, to help save money. And recently, with the blessing of the county council, the commissioners voted to approve placing tracking devices on highway department vehicles.