Roads discussion dominates County Commission talk

A report about county roads took center stage at the Marion County Commission meeting Monday.

Commissioner Kent Becker requested that Jesse Hamm, Road and Bridge superintendent, review the road report by Norm Bowers, local road engineer for the Kansas Association of Counties.

“I would like to see policy-wise if this is something (the road and bridge department) can work with as far as the report and instructions for grader operators,” Becker said.

Regarding the report, Hamm said there was a lot of truth to it as it relates to false shoulders, crowning issues, ditch issues and not using the proper amount of tonnage per mile for rock.

Also, Hamm said, what Bowers recommended about the type of rock the county should use was another problem.

“One thing that really stood out to me,” Hamm said, “was that the blade men in most counties have under 100 miles of maintenance responsibility and we are standing at 130 miles per blade man.”

In the report, Hamm said, Bowers made a point that this needs to change so that the department can keep up with road issues.

“Those are budget issues, and we have talked about it,” he said.

“As far as more mowers, that involves more tractors.”

Road tour

In his report, Bowers stated that at the request of Marion County, he toured the roads Nov. 14.

The major concern was rock road issues, with a question about the blacktop maintenance plan.

Bowers stated he was accompanied by Jesse Smith, assistant superintendent.

The roads were still fairly wet from rain and snow, Bowers noted, but he said he got a good feel for the wet weather conditions.

The tour included west of Hillsboro, then south to the road east of Moundridge, through Peabody, then south and east toward Florence to Harshman Quarry, north to Marion and north to Lincolnville, he stated.

The tour continued east to Bergkamp Quarry east of Lincolnville, north to Lost Springs, west to Tampa and then south back to Marion.

Money, manpower

Hamm said he believes it’s about money and manpower.

Dianne Novak, commission chairwoman, said she disagreed with Hamm’s assessment that a lot of the concerns can be boiled down to manpower and money.

“I am thinking it is a lack of knowledge, lack of prioritizing, skill and leadership,” she said.

“As I read this report, quite frankly I don’t see any ‘attaboys,’ and it really covers everything,” she said.

“When (Bowers) reported that he didn’t see many miles that didn’t need blading after a rain—that’s terrible.

“Or that now there are very few good rock roads throughout the county.”

Novak said her problem is when the reason given is lack of manpower and money, she doesn’t understand why, as Bowers put it, we are “just putting out fires.”

Novak said that if the department had one mile of road right, people would be more forgiving, but instead doing 10 miles of road wrong is wasting a lot of money.

Overriding issue

Bowers stated there’s not enough rock on the roads.

“No matter how good the grader operator might be, he cannot make a good rock road unless there is sufficient rock,” he stated.

“Since I didn’t see any roads with too much rock, I have to assume that the rock is wearing out faster than it is being replaced.”

Substantiating Novak’s concern about the expense, Bowers stated that poor rock roads are more expensive to maintain than good rock roads.

He also recommended 500 tons of rock per mile as opposed to 300 tons of rock.

“By only putting on a small amount,” Novak said, “we are serving no purpose at all. It absolutely crumbles.”

James Olsen, bridge/culvert supervisor, interjected by talking about transporting costs for certain rock.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said Bowers did a lot of comparisons when he was here more than 30 years ago.

Dallke said the shoulders are a lot higher than the ditches and they make the cut, which is a standard problem.

“All of our graders have slope meters, right?” Dallke asked.

Olsen said blades are being rotated now, but prior to a new policy, weren’t rotated as often.

Hamm said: “We have changed our policy to rotating every week.”

Dallke asked what the goal is for our operators.

Hamm said Bowers left instructions, but he has instructions as well.

“The timing is important with coordination between rock truck and blade man,” Hamm said.

One thing Bowers recommended, he said, is to have all the trucks on one mile instead of separating the trucks throughout the county.

“If we have our trucks in one area, then (the public) is not seeing them everywhere else.”

Dallke said it’s about perception.

Possible solution

With almost 800 miles of gravel roads needing work, the maintenance program is more “putting out fires” rather than systematically making planned improvements, Bowers stated.

Bowers stated he thinks it might be a good idea to cut back on miles of gravel by allowing non-essential gravel roads to go back to dirt.

Crown and shoulders

Bowers stated that along with the lack of rock, other major issues include high shoulders and lack of crown.

“Almost every gravel road has these issues to some degree,” he stated.

“These are actually related issues because the crown cannot be corrected without dealing with the high shoulders.

The report also discussed buying two more mowers to deal with the tall grass and purchasing proper equipment to prevent high shoulders.

“Equipment costs money, but it also costs money to do a job inefficiently,” he stated.

“I suggest buying two more mowers and a one-way tiller.”

One question from the public was about having meetings with grader people.

Hamm said they don’t have meetings as much as he would like, and it just hasn’t happened.

A resident in Menno Township said in Goessel they don’t see many graders.

A lot of people in Goessel would just like to see an operator in Goessel.

Some roads completely washed out and culverts are gone, and dirt roads need to be maintained as much as rock.

“Rock and gravel are in poor condition,” he said.

If these roads aren’t worked on, these roads will be gone.

Bowers has been the local road engineer since March 2007.

According to KAC, he advises counties on road-related issues and assists in communication with state agencies and the counties.

Linda Peters, another resident, said she believes the road and bridge department needs to have leadership, open communication, have a plan, and a budget

“Without a plan, how can a budget be developed,” she said.

Following comments from the public and commission, Novak requested a 20-minute executive session with Hamm and the commissioners.

A second executive session was approved for five more minutes.

After returning to open session, no action was taken.