Carter Highway Department wants to use more state money

John Thompson • Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 7:13 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Building and maintaining roads can be expensive, but when the state agrees to pay 98 percent and even 100 percent of the cost, it becomes a much more agreeable task for the Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission to approve the projects.

The Budget Committee got to see some of that money come back to the county during its meeting on Monday night.

The state forwarded $114,797.66 to the county for engineering services on future bridge renovation and replacement projects.

Because of the increase in funds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for the state aid bridge program, the county will now receive a 100 percent refund from TDOT once a bridge is built.

The Highway Department sees the state’s offer to pay 100 percent of the cost as a great opportunity. Building and renovating bridges is expensive. That is one reason the county has 26 bridges to replace using the state money.

One of the first steps in the process is for the Highway department to contract with engineering firms to design the replacement bridges. TDOT then approves those designs.

With the 100 percent refund of every dollar spent, it is very likely the Highway Committee will be asking the Budget Committee for a substantial increase in funding in those areas during the county’s upcoming annual budget process. That is because the state refunds do not come until the completion of the project. Even then, Highway Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said it takes several months for the refund to come to the county.

For engineering services, the Highway Department is initially asking for its line item to be doubled, from $40,000 to $80,000.

In a brief for the Highway Committee, the department said the increase in engineering services “will allow us to work on more bridges on the Carter County road system and make the roadways safer for the people of Carter County.”

There are other areas the Highway Department says that TDOT generosity will be advantageous to the county property taxpayers.

Colbaugh said TDOT will refund 98 percent of the cost of asphalt costs, leaving the county to pay only 2 percent of the costs. That means a lot more asphalt to take care of state aid roads and county roads. One proposal for next year’s budget is to increase the asphalt hot mix line item by $60,000. That would bring the total for the line item to $800,000.

Colbaugh suggested two other areas where it would be wise for the county to increase funding: other road materials and salt.

Colbaugh said the Highway Department and county commissioners have received calls from citizens who want center lines pained on county roads. Colbaugh said that would make the highways safer, especially at night. One suggestion is to increase the spending for road materials by $80,000, bringing the total for the line item to $100,000.

Salt is a commodity the Highway Department has always used sparingly. During snow storms in the mountains, the department usually uses a mixture of 25 percent salt and 75 percent stone on icy roads. Last year, the warm winter meant the county had plenty of salt at the beginning of this year.

Colbaugh said if the mixture was upgraded to 50 percent salt and 50 percent stone, that would melt the ice much faster. To do the more concentrated mixture, it would require a $50,000 increase in the salt line item, to a total of $100,000.

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