County hears DOT report

Published 9:31 am Tuesday, June 2, 2015

WINTON – Despite budget-tightening on everything from grass mowing, to pothole repair to repair of bridge culverts, and even road sign repair, the state Department of Transportation has maintained it efficiency in the upkeep of the roadways of Hertford County over the years.

This is according to District-I Maintenance Engineer Sterling Baker, who brought that before the Hertford County Board of Commissioners at their June meeting here on Monday.  District-I encompasses 14 counties in the northeast corridor of the state including the four counties that comprise the Roanoke-Chowan.

Baker presented the Division budget as a whole as well as for the county over the past five years.

“The primary maintenance over the past five years has remained pretty static,” Baker told the board.

The engineer pointed out that bridge inspections are required by the federal government every two years, and that across the district that aspect of road work has fluctuated.

“Depending on where they do those inspections that year is where we have to address those needs,” Baker stated. “When you look at it from county-to-county it’s kind of a cyclic motion, one year high, one year low.”

Back in the winter the General Assembly cut the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel; a more substantial cut would have resulted in the loss of hundreds of DOT jobs and possibly as much as $400 million in revenues.

Secondary road construction in Hertford County saw the largest dip; just over the past four years it went from just under $741,000 in 2010-11 to under $230,000 a year ago.

“This year we can’t tell you what it would be because we don’t know,” Baker cautioned. “There are several different versions in the General Assembly; and once that is rectified we will let everybody know.”

The primary resurfacing budget showed the largest increase; up from $1.36 million to $1.45 million.  Bridge secondary maintenance increased $50,000 ($125,000 to $175,000).

DOT expenditures for Hertford County showed over $81,000 spent on grass mowing and $30,000 on traffic signals in primary expenditures and in secondary expenditures: $60,000 on the operation of Parker’s Ferry.

“It hasn’t been increasing, it’s been decreasing a little bit,” Baker said.

The engineers particularly wanted to show the Commissioners the resurfacing budget for the next three years for the county.

“We’ve always got re-surfacing funds,” he noted. “But we are required now to formulize them and put them in a document that the Board of Transportation approved a couple of months ago.  If they are locked in here then they will get paved in the next three years.”

Baker said the Division is in the process of contracting for the next fiscal year because the re-surfacing budget funds are available.

“We usually get around $32 million for the Division,” he pointed out. “So we’re already going ahead and contracting roughly $25 million now in anticipation of getting the funds in September or August whenever the General Assembly wraps it up and they divvy up our funding to us.”

Baker told the Board that even the rock-and-tar resurfacing has been contracted out (at 80 percent).  The $6 million for the division for that form of resurfacing has been downsized to $3.2 million.

“The remaining 20 percent was not even enough to fully fund our people to even operate, so we’ve disbanded the (resurfacing) unit.”

Commissioner Curtis Freeman inquired about ditch cleanup, and what the criteria is to get it done. Baker said comes under primary and secondary maintenance and the obstruction must be affecting the roadway.

“If it’s just affecting private owners, just based on how the law is written, it’s the private owner’s responsibility,” he said. “It used to be we ditched a lot of things we do not ditch now simply because of budget and environmental restraints.”

County Manager Loria Williams said the county had made a request to DOT regarding ditch maintenance, but there had been no reply.

Assistant District Engineer Winn Bridgers apologized for a lack of response and also presented the Commissioners a Guideline on Drainage Policies and Practices.  It states the storm water regulations DOT is guided by for the state Environmental and Natural Resources’ Water Quality Division.

“You may have heard we can’t clean out a ditch because somebody’s dumping something in it,” Bridgers said. “We’re required to report any illicit dumping we find in the state roadway ditches. If we encounter that kind of dumping in any of the ditches we can’t physically clean it out because it’s not safe to put our employees in it.  The drainage has to be a detriment to DOT, and a little bit of water standing in a road ditch is not a detriment.  It’s a hard call, but one we have to make.”

Commissioner Ronald Gatling cited an instance of a near-drowning in an unkempt ditch way.

“Those are the situations that are harmful to the community,” Gatling said. “We definitely need to do something about these situations and ditches that hold a great amount of water.”

Baker said DOT would do what it could, but private property owners are required under state law to assist with the clean-up.

“Regrettably, a lot of times they’re just not willing, or able, to do that,” he said.

On a question from Commission Chairman Bill Mitchell on the situations and circumstances to present before DOT on ditch clean-up, Baker said it’s more than a judgment call.

“You can bring any of it to our attention,” the engineer stated. “Just because there’s a lot of judgment in it, we should be telling you why we can’t do it also; because some of those why-not’s may be easily or better removed impediments to it from (the county’s) end.”

“We get a lot of calls on this every day, especially with all the rains we’ve had” said Freeman. “A lot of citizens feel it’s the Commissioners’ job to get it done even when we tell them there are premises and guidelines from the state.  Hopefully what you’ve shown us will help educate the community and the county.”