Commissioners Discuss Bridge Issues, Roadway Snow Removal
With topics ranging from recent snow removal efforts and highway department procedures to three county bridges and disputed engineering claims, the Owen County Board of Commissioners sat down to discuss the variety of issues surrounding county roadways during a work session Tuesday afternoon.
Commissioners Tony Voelker, Donnie Minnick and Marc Ruble began by speaking with Owen County Highway Department Superintendent Joe Pettijohn concerning issues with snow removal from county roads.
Recent public outcry was the result of too many employees on vacation, Pettijohn said, as well as the weight and depth of snow in late December and early January.
He noted that an internal policy change has been made, allowing only three personnel from the department to be on vacation at the same time.
Pettijohn admitted that the issues and any failure in the snow removal efforts were solely on his shoulders.
He explained to the board that two individuals are designated as crew leaders in large snow situations – one working the northern section of the county, and one in the southern half. Of the department’s six pickup trucks, five single axel trucks, two graders, two tractors and a single tandem-axel truck are split evenly in the north and south, tackling heavily traveled top priority roadways first.
Pettijohn said crews are currently working to add stone on Goose Creek, Mangus, Delany and Timber Ridge roads.
Voelker noted that he and Pettijohn are currently working on a master roads improvement plan for the county, which will encompass three years. During the discussion, it was noted that the highway department budget has been cut over the last five years by the state, from $3.4 to $1.9 million. Pettijohn added that since coming to the garage, he has also lost five employees whose positions were never filled due to budget cuts.
A brief discussion followed concerning the Owen County Council’s intensions to engage public conversation concerning the possibility of raising the county’s wheel and surtaxes to help provide more than $400,000 annually for roadway materials only. However, if changed, the tax would not go into affect until 2014.
The board changed directions to talk about three county bridges, starting with Bridge #174 on rural Lingle Road where contractor CLR’s Chad Reitmeyer has plans to provide the county with a $422,000 bridge. Despite continuous work by CLR and county attorney Richard Lorenz, the county is awaiting final approval from RailAmerica to begin installing a new bridge over train tracks north of Gosport.
Reitmeyer asked Lorenz to request a pre-construction meeting with the railroad company, noting that all materials are in place and his crews can begin at any time.
Talk then turned to Bridge #105 on rural Hubble Station Road in Jefferson Township. The bridge remains closed due to structural issues. Pettijohn said that he believes workers at the highway department could possibly build a new bridge at a considerably reduced cost. The board then requested Reitmeyer’s opinion on the bridge.
Reitmeyer said he has looked at the old truss bridge and said, in his opinion, the bridge is too short and abutments need to be moved, in addition to raising the bridge by a foot in elevation over Lick Creek. However, the county must approach the repairs or replacement of the bridge in a different manner than others, as it is listed as a historical bridge by the Indiana Department of Transportation. There is currently no preservation commitment on the bridge.
“If it is designated as a historic structure, they can allow you to remove it, but you have to remove it in a way that the structure is saved,” Reitmeyer explained. “You have to dismantle it so it can be put back up.”
Bridge #52 on Rattlesnake Road, spanning Rattlesnake Creek, is currently in the middle of a dispute between the county and Clark Dietz Engineers. Lorenz informed the board that a May 3, 2012 memo from then Owen County Auditor Angie Lawson to Clark Dietz noted that a contract had yet to be signed with the company.
He said in June, a proposed contract was given to the commissioners before the project was placed on hold. However, in November, Dietz submitted a claim for professional services rendered through November 30 with a bill of $14,000. The board, at that time, voted to pay the bill after Dietz said the billing was for work completed before June 4.
Most recently, the county has received a bill dated January 9, 2013 showing a credit of $14,000 paid, but increased the total amount of completed work to $51,000, with $37,000 still owed.
“It is interesting to me that in the timeframe between November 30 and December 31, we went from one percent complete on field survey to 85 percent complete, at a cost of an additional $24,735,” Lorenz said. “In that same period of time, we went from 15 percent complete on preliminary design to 30 percent and now that number has become $17,000 from $8,000. Another was the ecological survey and wetland delineation, that went up another 15 percent in completion, or another $1,200. I looked back at the contract and we are entitled to request the materials and background on this matter. We have access to the records of all books, documents, papers, correspondence, accounting records and other evidence pertaining to the costs in this contract. It is my recommendation we ask for it.”
The board requested Lorenz request all information related to the contract.
The Owen County Board of Commissioners will meet for a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, January 23, beginning at 4:00 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Room, located on the second floor of the Owen County Courthouse.
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