Given inflation and higher construction costs, county staff proposes increasing road resurfacing allocation from $10 million to $13 million per year

Goal is to keep 60% of county roads at level of service that makes drivers comfortable enough not to complain

This graphic shows how increased funding for county road resurfacing over the next several years could enable county staff to achieve its level-of-service goal. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Because of inflation and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Sarasota County engineer has proposed raising the county’s annual road resurfacing budget from $10 million to $13 million.

The increase would take effect in the 2021 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, if the County Commission approves it. None of the board members offered views on that during their May 21 budget workshop.

However, in discussing budget planning for FY 2021, administrative staff and the board members acknowledged the many unknowns at this point, given the continuing effects the novel coronavirus is having on the economy.

County Engineer Spencer Anderson, who heads up the Public Works Department, pointed out that a board decision in planning for the 2014 fiscal year budget set the $10-million figure for road resurfacing expenditures each year as the means of maintaining 60% of the county’s roads at an overall condition rating of 60 or above, on a scale designed to measure a driver’s perception of pavement quality.

In May 2013, then-Chief County Engineer James K. Harriott Jr. explained that, below the 60 mark, a driver finds a road to be bumpier and more uncomfortable to navigate — in other words, the level where roads produce driver complaints, as he put it.

Then-County Administrator Randall Reid endorsed Harriott’s proposal to raise the annual allocation for road resurfacing from $4 million to $10 million. Reid compared lack of maintenance for roads to poor health care, noting that costs rise much higher after situations become critical. “You end up having to rebuild [the roads] and [the expense] gets astronomical.”

On May 21, Anderson, too, noted that the further staff falls behind in maintenance of a segment of road, the greater likelihood that the base of that road will start to break down, resulting in higher expenses to put the road back into good shape.

A May 2019 graph presented to the commission projects the continuing climb in resurfacing expenses to maintain the county policy regarding overall road conditions. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Over the past 18 months, he reminded the commissioners, he and other Public Works staff members have noted the need for more resurfacing funds. Because inflation has elevated the cost of asphalt, construction costs are higher, and the ADA requirements have gone into effect, he continued, the $10 million ends up effectively being $8 million.

During a May 2019 budget workshop, Rohini Bobba, a technical specialist in the county’s Transportation Division, focused on many of the same issues Anderson addressed last week. Then, Commissioner Alan Maio talked about the fact that workers undertaking a resurfacing initiative “have to break every corner curb to make it ADA-accessible,” and they also have to add sidewalk segments that can range from 6 to 20 feet in length to fill in gaps adjacent to project areas.

Over the past few years, Bobba said during her presentation, the ADA-compliance work had eaten up about 7% of the county’s total annual resurfacing budget.

The county has 2,362 lane miles of road that it maintains, Bobba told the board.

Raising the annual resurfacing allocation to $13 million, Anderson pointed out on May 21, “really gets us back to a point” where the county can maintain its goal of having no more than 40% of roads falling below the overall condition rating — or level of service — of 60.

He showed the board members a slide representing the impact of inflation and the ADA improvements on the proverbial $10-million pot set aside for pavement management each year.

This graphic shown to the board on May 21 provides more details about shortfalls, plus projections about how resurfacing expenditures could maintain the level-of-service policy. Image courtesy Sarasota County

He also proposed using a 3% inflation adjustment, starting with the 2022 fiscal year, in an effort to try to ensure that sufficient funding is available for resurfacing.

Staff suggested that figure based on the recommendation of Engineering News-Record, Anderson added, indicating staff’s reliance on that source’s indices because of their acceptance nationwide.

Yet, even with the inflation index factored in, he said, by FY 2024, another boost, to $15 million a year, would be necessary to maintain the goal of keeping 60% of the county roads at an overall condition of 60 or higher.

County Engineer Spencer Anderson smiles at the remark made by Commissioner Alan Maio. News Leader image

Nonetheless, he pointed out, if the board approved use of the inflation index, that increase in the 2024 fiscal year actually would end up being only about $1.5 million higher the amount budgeted in the 2023 fiscal year.

“Is there an opportunity to come back to us [before FY 2024], so we don’t fall below that [60% level of service] line?” Commissioner Maio asked.

“Yes,” Anderson replied with a big smile. “There is.”

Anderson also took the opportunity of the road resurfacing presentation to point out that county staff has made an interactive graphic available on the county website, which enables persons to see which roads are scheduled to be resurfaced during a given fiscal year. (That map may be found by typing in “Traffic Operations Pavement” in the inquiry box on the county website’s homepage.)

Road resurfacing this year

On May 20, the day before Anderson’s presentation, the commissioners unanimously approved paying Ajax Paving Industries of Florida LLC, which is located in Nokomis, $2,686,588.06 for road resurfacing this year. “The project includes milling and paving of existing roadways, pavement striping, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ramp modifications, curb repairs and roadway base repairs,” a May 20 staff memo explained.

All the work is to be completed within 150 days, the memo added.

“Prior to construction,” the memo continued, “mailers will be sent to individual properties adjacent to the work [areas], notifying them of the upcoming resurfacing and projected schedules.” Additionally, the memo said, Ajax Paving employees would place door hangers at each residence and/or business next to a work area “three to five days in advance of construction activities.”

This Traffic Operations Pavement map, which is interactive on the county website, shows segments of roads scheduled to be resurfaced this year and in coming years. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The memo also pointed out, “Staff will work closely with Ajax on the implementation and execution of [its] Maintenance of Traffic plan. This includes improved placement of variable message signs, coordinated detour routes and minimizing areas affected by adjusted traffic patterns.”

Further, the memo said, weekly updates will be provided on the county’s Construction — One Week Look Ahead Report, which is posted to the county website.

Funding for the resurfacing comes from the county’s Surtax III Program, which voters approved during a 2007 referendum. (See the related article in this issue.)