Budget crunch squeezes county highwaysPeople traveling Douglas County’s highway system won’t find much this year in the way of construction to impede their travel.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
People traveling Douglas County’s highway system won’t find much this year in the way of construction to impede their travel.
That’s not good news when the county faces a deteriorating highway system.
Only County Highways B, O and M are slated for any kind of highway work, most of it is maintenance designed to extend the life of the roads for a few more years.
Because the county’s budget was so tight this year, Douglas County Highway Commissioner Paul Halverson said county highway improvement or replacement projects were put on the backburner.
“If I did a presentation only on this year’s construction season, it would be a minute long,” Halverson said. “I don’t have a lot going on this year because the budget was that tight.”
During a 50-minute presentation to the county board, Halverson explained highways continue to deteriorate despite implementing a five-year plan for highway improvements in 2005.
“We need to find a way into the future to seriously fund some of this work,” Halverson said. While not every project on that five-year plan was completed, he said the board did find adequate funding to pay for most of it.
“Unfortunately at this point, because of the way the budgets are, we turned more into what I would call a reactionary type of department,” Halverson said. “We basically sit back and see what area fails the worst and that’s where we spend the money and decide activities to improve them. The highways are deteriorating faster than we are repairing them.”
Older roads also deteriorate at a faster rate, Halverson said.
“That’s what we’re seeing,” he said.
While the county has spent a considerable amount of money since 2009 to improve its roads, Halverson said the overall condition of Douglas County Highways is in worse condition today than it was then.
“It’s costing us a lot of money to do repetitive patching, to do what we can,” Halverson said. “It’s become a safety concern.”
Nearly half of Douglas County highways are in such poor condition they are rutting and distorted, with patches in poor condition or failing and cracks eroding, nearing the end of their usefulness according to the rating system used by the county to determine the best course to maintain the roads for years to come. In those cases, pulverizing the existing road and laying new asphalt, or complete reconstruction is necessary.
Since 2005, the county board has relied on the condition rating system, rather than politics, to determine where money should be spent for road repairs.
Two areas will get attention this year, both will receive maintenance overlays .
“The pavements that we’re overlaying have a significant amount of deterioration in them already,” Halverson said. “Consequently, the maintenance costs are fairly high on them.”
He said with the overlay, the county should get another five to six years of use out of the project and save the county money on repairs.
A 2.8-mile stretch of County Highway B west from Lake Nebagamon toward U.S. Highway 53 and 4.1-mile stretch of County Highway O will get the overlays.
Halverson said those two segments will give the county the most value for its dollar.
“If you look at our overall system, we don’t have very many roads in the system that have a condition rating where it makes sense to do an overlay. Most of our pavements are deteriorated beyond that point,” Halverson said. “They should be removed, ground up to eliminate all the cracking and failures that have occurred and put fresh pavement down.”
In addition to the overlay projects, Halverson said there are two bridge projects in the works on County Road M, where Douglas County had to close the bridge over the Moose River earlier this year after the deck failed.
The bridge over the Tamarack River will be replaced and the deck of the bridge over the Moose River will be replaced after the county highway department determined the structure supporting the bridge was still in good condition.
The federal government is paying for about 80 percent of those costs.
Halverson said when that bridge failed — and holes developed in the deck — you could look through and see the river below.
“We were forced to take action,” Halverson said. “We had to close it immediately and did some temporary repairs to reopen it, but we knew that wouldn’t last.”