Waupaca County may borrow up to $4 million per year to rebuild county roads.
Two county board committees have unanimously recommended that the county issue bonds for $4 million per year for six years.
The Highway Committee and the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Committee held a joint meeting June 16 to discuss plans for completing a long-term plan to rebuild county roads. Their combined recommendation was presented to the board Tuesday, July 12, and is scheduled for a board vote on Tuesday, July 19.
In 2000, the Waupaca County Highway Department began a 20-year plan to reconstruct 110 miles of roadway. The plan called for five miles of reconstruction and 17 miles of paving annually, as well as 51 miles of seal coating, five miles of preliminary engineering for future projects and five miles of right of way purchases each year.
The total cost to implement the plan was projected at $6.56 million annually.
However, as state and local budget problems and the recession ate into county revenues, the county’s efforts have dropped from seven miles of road reconstruction in 2008 to 2.5 miles in 2010. About 40 miles of reconstruction remain from the original plan.
In the fall of 2010, the highway department requested $3.6 million in bonding to cover the cost of road reconstruction. After several meetings and numerous votes, county supervisors approved $2.6 million in bonding for county highways.
Supervisor Don Morgan, of Weyauwega, was among those voting to limit highway bonding to $2.6 million. He is now a member of the committee that reviews capital improvement projects.
Morgan said he is now willing to consider a $4 million per year bonding package for county roads because there is a clear end in sight.
“I’m a conservative by nature. I don’t believe in bonding unless it’s for capital projects,” Morgan said. “The county highway department has a six-year plan to get all the roads up to standard. After a set period of time, we stop the bonding.”
Morgan noted that once the county rebuilds the base on the worst roads, the county will be able to focus on less expensive maintenance.
Rebuilding a road from the base up can cost from $600,000 to $1 million per mile, depending on the soil conditions and whether the road is in an urban or a rural area.
County Highway Commissioner Dean Steingraber told the County Post in the fall of 2010 that a road needs to be reconstructed about once every 60 to 80 years if properly maintained. Once a road is reconstructed, it needs to be repaved about once every 20 years at a cost of about $150,000 per mile. The road needs crack filling and seal coating every five years, which cost about $12,000 per mile.
“I believe we should get the roads done,” Morgan said. “Interest rates are low right now and the cost of road construction will only keep going up every year.”
Supervisor DuWayne Federwitz represents the rural Clintonville area. He is also chairman of the CIP Committee. He pointed to a recent tour of county roads taken by members of his committee.
“We looked at County Trunk T and everybody said, ‘I didn’t realize we had such terrible roads in Waupaca County,'” Federwitz recalled.
He described County T as having an “alligator” surface, with broken blacktop and potholes.
“The road is very narrow. When we met large farm machinery, one of us had to go in the ditch,” Federwitz said.
Federwitz said the supervisors also inspected roads that had been recently reconstructed.
“They finished County Trunk O in Larrabee last year and this is the way a road should be,” Federwitz said.
Federwitz said the CIP Committee asked the highway department to determine which roads needed repair the most and set a six-year plan to finish the reconstruction projects and end the county’s need to borrow. He believes the current plan will allow Waupaca County to shift its focus from reconstruction to maintenance.
County Supervisor Bob Flease, of Mukwa, is chairman of the highway committee. He said the goal of the six-year bonding plan is to rebuild a number of both east-west and north-south roads so that trucks can travel on them without weight limits.
“We need to have some corridors in the county for trucks,” Flease said. “We need to work on County T from County D to Highway 22 because it carries a lot of heavy farm machinery and truck traffic. We need to work on County M coming out of Manawa.”
Flease said that County Road Q from the Chain O’ Lakes to State Highway 54 needs to be completed this year or the county risks losing state and federal funding for the project.
Safety is also an issue, according to Flease, When the county rebuilds its roads, the ditches are made with more gradual slopes so that vehicles are less likely to flip over when they run off the road.
He also noted that the highway department has been cutting costs where possible.
“We’ve been downsizing our highway department for the last four to five years. When someone retires, we usually don’t replace them,” Flease said, estimating that the staff has gone from over 100 employees to about 60.
“Where would we be without bonding?” Flease asked. “The courthouse is paid for and the jail will soon be paid for. Once we get our roads fixed up we will be doing maintenance and not need to borrow. Without bonding we couldn’t get anything done.”