MEIGS COUNTY — The Meigs County Highway Department reported a record year of accomplishments in their recently released 2015 report.
Funding from a number of sources made it possible for the highway department to accomplish major projects that included 35 miles of new hot-mix pavement, four new bridges and significant improvements to three others.
County Engineer Eugene Triplett said his department knows what it means to live on a fixed income. The department has struggled to make improvements with a budget that has been frozen since 2006.
“We have been doing it for 10 years and have survived by holding down expenses where we can and generally making do,” he said. “In 2015, we were able to find money elsewhere that allowed us to make improvements that would have otherwise been impossible, but there is a lot of competition and we may not be as fortunate next year.”
Even with frugal management of funds, the number of employees has been reduced from 32 in 2004 to to 24 in 2016.
“We have been fortunate the price of fuel and asphalt have been stable for the past several years,” Triplett said. “Employees have foregone significant wage increases in lieu of maintaining acceptable health insurance coverage.”
Meigs benefited from a program announced in 2014 by Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Transportation to replace 200 local bridges at no cost to local government, with the replacement of a bridge on County Rd 124. In 2015, the county received funds for the replacement of bridges on County Road 29 and Chester Township Road 262.
A new bridge on County Road 35 was funded by the County Local Bridge program and included 80 percent Federal Highway Association funding — the balance, again, coming from a grant from ODOT’s Jobs and Commerce Department.
County monies were used to replace and repair bridges in Bedford Township, two small bridges on Landaker Road were replaced and the superstructure on a small bridge on DeVenney Road.
The Meigs County engineer is responsible for 311 bridges on both county and township roads; the term “bridge” includes any structure under or over a county or township road with an opening beneath the structure of more than 10 feet as measured along the center of the road. In some cases, this includes large culverts or pipes. Each of these structures is inspected annually and judged according to categories. A bridge with a condition rating of 4 or less is considered structurally deficient.
A posted bridge is one for which a load limit has been determined. While structural deficiency may have a significant effect on whether or not a bridge is posted, it is not the only criteria.
“If we have plans (for the bridge construction), or if structural elements can be measured,” Triplett said. “We calculate the structural capacity of bridges. If they are not adequate to safely handle legal loads, the bridge is posted.”
There are 49 posted bridges in Meigs County — 26 as the result of these type of calculations.
He said that “some bridges cannot be rated based on calculations because the elements that must be known cannot be known (i.e. concrete bridges with no plans)” or the “general condition warrants a reduction such as cracked or severely eroded stone abutments or stream scour.”
The 23 bridges posted because of its conditions are said to be based on engineering judgment.
Assuming the life cycle of a bridge is approximately 75 years, four to five bridges per year must be replaced just to keep up.
According to Triplett, this pace was only achieved during the 1930s and 1950s, and he shared concerns about county bridges and explained the funding process.
“Funding from the Federal Highway Administration for the Local Bridge Replacement program is handled by the County Engineers Association of Ohio. Part of their consideration is the condition of individual county’s bridges. The half with the poorest bridges are ‘target’ counties,” he said, “and Meigs County ceased being a target county two years ago, which means our bridges are in a slightly better condition than half the other counties in the state.”
He said given his personal knowledge of the county’s bridges, “this fact concerns me greatly. For the record, I am not satisfied with the condition of our bridges.”
Triplett said that on a local level, Meigs County can do little to improve funding for county roads and bridges.
“In large counties, increasing the license plate fee generates significant funding for local roads. It has little effect in a small rural county,” he said.
Another way to fund road and bridge projects is for the Ohio Legislature to increase the gas tax and distribute the money to where is is most needed as it has done in the past.
“This would significantly increase funding for local roads in rural counties,” Triplett said. “At this time, there seems to be little support for increasing the gas tax in Columbus.”
There is discussion in Washington, D.C., for increased spending on infrastructure including bridges, but Triplett said, “Federal monies come with a lot of restrictions and are probably more appropriate for very large projects. I would much prefer if a gas tax increase is ever made it be by Columbus rather than Washington.”
The last time gas tax was increased by Ohio was 2003, 2004 and 2005 at a rate of two cents per year per gallon.
“The additional six cents increased our revenue significantly. The tax was distributed equally to all 88 counties, so Meigs received as much from that tax increase as Cuyahoga, a more populated county,” Triplett said. “The flat-line funding since then is making it very difficult to keep up our paving cycle. It is highly unlikely we will ever have a year like 2015 again and we have to figure out how to maintain the level of service on our roads that the public has come to expect.”
He encouraged Meigs residents to take a drive to see the improvements, and said his department is proud of what they have been able to accomplish.
“I see times getting a little rougher for our county highway department without some increased funding,” Triplett said. “We will have to make some adjustments in our level of service, but for the short-term, these adjustments should be barely noticeable.”
Reach Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155, Ext. 2551