OBAMA-STRICTLAND, "Ohio Jobs, Roads Program" - BACK to GRAVE


Obama's Great JOBS - STIMULUS "Gravel Roads Program"

[REMEMBER: George Bush didn't have a GRAVEL ROADS PROGRAM!]

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Some Ohio drivers who are used to paved surfaces may find themselves traveling on gravel instead as rural counties struggle to pay for road improvements.

Coshocton County, in east-central Ohio, already has let some roads go to gravel, and a few other counties in the state may follow suit, according to Fred Pausch, executive director of the County Engineers Association of Ohio.17

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"It is kind of a reflection on how times are tough for everybody right now," he said. "I think they are trying to do the best they can with the limited resources at their disposal."

In Ashtabula County, the deteriorated surface of a short asphalt street in Rock Creek was ground up and packed down a few weeks ago, said Chip Laugen, village administrator.

"We just didn't have the funding to put into [Willow Street] and were trying to focus on more heavily traveled roads," he said, adding that the street is used primarily by bicyclists traveling on the county's hike/bike trail. "There had been no maintenance on it for several years, and the potholes were like open graves."

Ohio is not the only state where the "ping" of gravel is becoming a more familiar sound to motorists:

•Roads in about half of Michigan's 83 counties have been converted from asphalt or chip seal to dirt or gravel, said Monica Ware, spokeswoman for the County Road Association of Michigan. "We started to notice this about 2007," she said. "Our revenues have fallen substantially, and costs [for road repair] have skyrocketed."

•Officials in Maine, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York are converting, or considering converting, cracked asphalt roads to gravel, according to a USA Today story in February.

•An official in Spiritwood, N.D., told the Wall Street Journal in July that his city ground up the deteriorated asphalt on a 10-mile stretch of road because the ground-up surface would cost $2,600 per mile annually to maintain, compared with $75,000 per mile to reconstruct the road.

In Ohio, Pausch said, "county engineers are struggling to balance that ongoing quest to fix the failing roads and bridges while striving to provide quality maintenance services."

He declined to name the rural counties considering whether to allow deteriorated paved roads to revert to gravel, although he said none is in Northeast Ohio.

But while local county engineers said they are fortunate that they can still afford to maintain roads, improving them is another matter.

Roads in Medina County paved with liquid asphalt and rock chips were upgraded to asphalt as subdivisions grew, said County Engineer Mike Salay. But with flat revenue and a tight budget, no future improvements are contemplated.

"We are in a system preservation mode here," he said.

Ohio counties receive money for roads and bridges from the gasoline tax and license taxes. About 11 percent of the 28-cent gasoline tax goes to counties, roughly $226 million in 2008, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. Counties received about $332 million in license tax fees in 2008, ODOT said.

Salay and other engineers said revenue has been flat for about five years. And as roads and bridges age, the revenue is needed for maintenance, and upgrades are more difficult to fund, especially with rising asphalt prices, Pausch said.

Bill Holtzman, chief deputy engineer in Lorain County, said most of the rural routes in the southern part of the county are chip seal, in which a road is sprayed with liquid asphalt and a roller is used to adhere rock chips to the asphalt. The roads are redone every four years.

"We are doing less miles every year because of cost," he said. But Holtzman does not foresee any reverting to gravel.

Chip seal costs about 40 percent less than paving a road with asphalt but does not hold up as well under heavy use, engineers said. Asphalt on chip seal is about a quarter-inch thick, and an asphalt overlay is about an inch thicker.

Ashtabula County Engineer Timothy Martin said that instead of adding an asphalt overlay to an asphalt road, workers may cover it with chip seal.

"That buys us two years," he said. "We have seen a shift in doing more chip seal and less overlay because of the cost, but we are not to the point to revert to gravel roads."

Many projects under way in counties this summer are funded with federal stimulus money and are generally on heavily traveled roads. In some cases, the stimulus program paid 100 percent of the cost, instead of the 80 percent that federal money usually covers.

"Next year, when all that is gone, we will be back to figuring out how to pay for the road program," said Medina County's Salay.

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