Engineer talks rural road funding shortfalls

By Dean Wright - [email protected]

Gallia Engineer Brett Boothe addresses the Ohio Governor’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure in early February.

Gallia Engineer Brett Boothe addresses the Ohio Governor’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure in early February.

Courtesy photo

COLUMBUS — Gallia Engineer and Government Affairs Co-Chair of the Ohio County Engineers Association Brett Boothe addressed the Ohio House of Representatives Finance Committee Wednesday with concerns about rural counties not being able to keep up with road funding needs.

Among statewide talk of a possible 18 cent increase in gas tax to combat a $1.5 billion shortfall in Ohio Department of Transportation funding, Boothe focused on the importance of that tax for the rural counties and what he called extensive shortfalls in funding for rural road development. The hike may help rural counties, but there would still be a substantial difference required to make up rural county needs. Boothe said that was around $670 million for county engineer offices across Ohio.

“Gasoline tax is the life blood of a rural county engineer,” he said. “It’s the overwhelming biggest part of your revenue. In urban counties, their main revenue is license plate fees. In my county, it’s a little over 60 percent (revenue coming from gas tax). Most of the rural counties, it’s around 60 percent of our revenue. We don’t have the loan capacity. We don’t have a turnpike we can bond. There are opportunities for (motor vehicle registration) permissive fee but because our populations are so low in these rural counties, it’s just not enough to make a discernible impact on our transportation systems. So, we rely heavily on the gasoline tax.”

Boothe noted that the gasoline tax had not kept pace with construction material inflation and automobiles had become more fuel efficient thus resulting in bigger gaps in county road infrastructure funding and shrinking purchasing power. He noted some of those material prices had nearly doubled or tripled since 2006. He said around 28 states had raised or reformed “gasoline user fees” since 2013 and the states surrounding Ohio had also adjusted.

Around 83 percent of all roads in Ohio are maintained by counties, townships and municipalities, according to the engineer’s presentation materials. Boothe represented all 88 counties in his testimony before the committee, but said he would mostly focus on 52 rural counties across the state.

“I’m going to do that by talking a little bit about Gallia County specifically,” said Boothe to the committee. “I think it’s a good indicator of what we have and what we’re dealing with from those 52 rural counties in the state of Ohio. Gallia has 453 miles of road, about 208 miles of asphalt, 128 miles of chip and seal and 118 miles of gravel. If we’re looking at a life cycle on that asphalt, our asphalt lasts about 15 years.”

The life of the asphalt was relative, he said, as there were other factors included in the wear of roads.

“We should be resurfacing somewhere around 14 miles of road per year (to maintain overall county road health),” said Boothe. “In all reality, we’re actually only doing somewhere around four miles, outside of grants, just with our general revenue. That’s a shortfall of 10 miles (per year)…”

The engineer also mentioned that number did not include preventative or maintenance work. The engineer would later release information to Ohio Valley Publishing saying at a cost of roughly $70,000 a mile to asphalt a road, there was an annual shortfall of roughly $693,000 in funding for overall asphalt road construction to maintain a healthy countywide road life cycle.

“Chip and seal, we have about a five-year life,” said Boothe. “Again, it’s all relative to having a good base. On 128 miles on a five-year life we should be somewhere around 25.6 miles a year is what we should be chip and sealing, every single year in Gallia County. In all actuality, it averages about seven miles per year. So, there is a tremendous shortfall in that as well.”

The engineer would also later say to Ohio Valley Publishing that with a mile of chip and seal roads costing around $18,000, there was an annual shortfall of $334,800 a year in trying to maintain their appropriate life cycle.

To upgrade around 117.76 miles of gravel road to chip and seal at roughly $150,000 a mile, the project would equate to $17,664,000 in cost. According to Boothe, over 10 years the shortfall estimate is $1,766,400 a year in order to upgrade aggregate roads to chip and seal in Gallia County.

This is all assuming roads have a good base, there is no extra work or road damage by large vehicles done during the build process.

Boothe would go on to tell the committee that Gallia has 277 bridges and 26 of them are “structurally deficient” and another 164 are “functionally obsolete.” Reportedly, on a 10-year replacement plan, the county has been able to replace four bridges a year, that making 40 for every 10 years. It leaves the county a full 150 bridges behind in development, according to an appropriate schedule, and needing replacement in the time period. Boothe’s information indicates that to meet the county’s need, it would have to replace 19 bridges a year for 10 years and that would leave it at a shortfall of $3,110,300 per year. That would not include maintaining bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient either.

Overall, he said that the Gallia road and bridge capital programs are behind $5,904,500 a year. That does not include road slip repair costs, of which 21 were found last year and 11 slips were also found in the last few weeks in Gallia. Their repair could cost between $200,000 to $250,000 a year, per slip.

“We’re always hustling to find a way to fund those slips and get those roads open,” said Boothe. “I’ve had to take asphalt roads back to chip and seal and chip and seal back to gravel in Gallia County and I can assure you those are no popular decision anywhere in the state. County engineers in rural counties are doing the best we can with what we have and trying to live within our means…It affects us economically…This is very common with any rural county in the state. Specifically those on the Ohio River and Appalachian Ohio.”

According to the engineer, of the current total 28 cent per gallon gas tax distribution formula, 75 percent of 23.8 cents goes to the Ohio Department of Transportation, 10.71 percent of that goes to municipalities, 9.29 percent goes to counties and 5 percent to townships. Of another 2.7 cents out of the 28 cents, around 42.84 percent of that goes to municipalities, 37.16 goes to counties and 20 percent to townships. One cent goes to the Ohio Public Works Commission to fund grants and another .5 cents goes to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Turnpike.

Around $2.3 million goes to each county in gas tax each year, said Boothe. He noted that money generated by motor vehicle registration permissive fees for rural areas about Gallia’s size was around $1.3 million.

“That’s about $3.6 million just revenue,” said Boothe. “That’s 98 percent of my revenue outside of grants…I have my typical expenses. Payroll and benefits somewhere around $1.8 million. You see my stone (costs) half a million. My fuel, a quarter of a million. Utilities and building facilities is somewhere around $50,000. When I’m all said and done, I’m about $3.6 million and I’m left with about $250,000. That’s $250,000 and I’ve not paved a road. I’ve not chip and sealed a road. I’ve not fixed a slip. I’ve not purchased a new piece of equipment or replaced some of our facilities…”

If Boothe put that into a road, he said he’d be doing around four miles of paving, a year. He said he uses that $250,000 though to be leveraged as matches for grants. He hopes it gets him more money by agreeing to a local and generally smaller percentage investment to get a larger monetary return from grant programs.

To save money, Boothe said it’s not uncommon to partner with nearby organizations and that he mixes his own cold mix to sell to other nearby groups at cheaper value than market pricing and oftentimes his office buys in volume to stretch a dollar. The engineer’s office partners with the Gallia Work Release Center at times to cut brush by the road. The engineer’s office utilizes bottom ash from the local power plants for icy conditions and that has saved him money instead of paying for sand or grit. The county utilizes roughly 10,000 tons a year of the cinder ash.

Dean Wright reached at 40-446-2342, ext. 2103.

Gallia Engineer Brett Boothe addresses the Ohio Governor’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure in early February. Engineer Brett Boothe addresses the Ohio Governor’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure in early February. Courtesy photo

By Dean Wright

[email protected]