Inflation hampering road resurfacing projects in Sarasota County

Public Works director seeking more funding in 2024 fiscal year to address backlog

Almost exactly three years ago — in May 2020 — Spencer Anderson, director of the Sarasota County Public Works Department, talked with the county commissioners about staff’s efforts to comply with the county policy calling for 60% of the county’s roadways to be maintained at a level of service of 60 or higher on staff’s Pavement Condition Index.

In May 2013, then-Chief County Engineer James K. Harriott Jr. explained to the board members at that time that, below the 60 mark, a driver finds a road to be bumpier and more uncomfortable to navigate. In other words, that is the level at which roads prompt driver complaints, as he put it.

At Anderson’s request three years ago, the commissioners agreed to boost the county’s annual road resurfacing budget from $10 million to $13 million. That took effect at the start of the 2021 fiscal year, which was Oct. 1, 2020.

During that May 21, 2020 presentation, Anderson pointed out that the farther behind staff falls in the maintenance of a road, the greater the likelihood that the road will start to break down; that leads to spending even more money, to ensure the road is put back in good shape.

Even at that time — before the more recent inflation woes arose nationwide — Anderson explained that inflation had elevated the cost of asphalt, and construction expenses had risen. Moreover, he said, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements were leading to higher costs.

Then-Commissioner Alan Maio noted 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.

By that point, three years ago, the $10 million annual road resurfacing allocation essentially meant a total of $8 million for projects, Anderson pointed out.

Increasing the annual resurfacing allocation to $13 million, he added, “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 also proposed a 3% inflation adjustment be incorporated with the road resurfacing budget, starting with the 2022 fiscal year. Yet, even with that index factored in, he pointed out, the county likely would have to budget $15 million a year starting in the 2024 fiscal year to comply with the road condition policy. That prediction was only slightly off the mark, as it turns out.

The commissioners did end up agreeing to the 3% adjustment.

Nonetheless, on May 23, as the board members reviewed county Capital Improvement Program (CIP) initiatives that staff has proposed for the 2024 fiscal year, Anderson was back before them, talking about the Public Works Department’s continuing efforts to try to abide by the road condition policy.

“We’re currently just under that [60% mark], at about 59%,” he said, though that may change. Staff has undertaken its latest automated pavement condition assessment work, he noted; he and his colleagues are evaluating the findings.

In the meantime, he continued, the pavement preservation efforts that staff began during the 2021 fiscal year are helping the situation. Every five years, he reminded the board, staff puts an emulsion on the pavement, which “brings it back to life. It gives it new flexibility and allows it to have a longer wear time.”

“Money well invested” was how Anderson characterized those efforts.

That emulsion can extend the life of a roadway 10 years, he added.

When Chair Ron Cutsinger asked whether that 10-year prediction was realistic, Anderson replied, “It’s a proven technology and practice.”

He also told Cutsinger and the other board members, “We’re anticipating the roads that we’ve used that [process] on [will have] a much higher [condition] index in the future.”

Yet, Anderson continued, Public Works is seeking an 8.39% increase in its Pavement Management Program budget for the 2024 fiscal year, compared to this year’s amount. That uptick would bring the total to $14,948,824 — just shy of his $15-million prediction.

Estimates and realities

Anderson also showed the commissioners slides noting the original estimates for the resurfacing of specific road segments and the lowest bids received for them.

For example, for the final road resurfacing schedule of the 2021 fiscal year, the repaving of Tuttle Avenue, Ashton Road and related school zones was estimated at $3,945,448. The lowest bid was $7,309,024.

For another example, the resurfacing of Honore Avenue and roads in a variety of North County subdivisions in the first road resurfacing initiative of the 2022 fiscal year was anticipated to cost $4,704,480. The lowest bid was $7,646,740.

The difference between the staff estimate for six sets of projects in the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years and the total amount of the lowest bids was $14,939,614, the chart said. However, one of those initiatives — involving Siesta Key Roads — had additional segments included in the final advertisement, the chart noted. That was part of the explanation, the chart said, for the $3,773,550 staff estimate ending up being eclipsed by the lowest bid of $9 million.

Because of the overall difference between estimates and actual costs, Anderson explained this week, staff planned to delay those projects by a year, so it could catch up with its budget.

“We’re re-prioritizing our roads,” he added, to match initiatives with the amount of money that is available.

The Siesta Key work will take place in the summer of 2024, Anderson told the commissioners.

A chart that Carolyn Eastwood, director of the county’s Capital Projects Department, showed the commissioners said that the latest version of the Siesta Key resurfacing plans has an estimated expense of $4.7 million, which is included in the county’s 2024 fiscal year budget.

After the county’s next iteration of its penny sales tax — or “Surtax” — program goes into effect — starting on Jan. 1, 2025 — funds out of that revenue will be used for repaving. In fact, Anderson noted, about half of all the Surtax IV money will be used for such work. He also pointed out that approximately half of the Public Works budget each year goes toward resurfacing.

The department’s entire amended budget for this fiscal year, as noted on a slide, is $58,595,021.

Anderson did remind the commissioners that a person may visit the Traffic Operations Pavement webpages on the county website to learn the timeline for specific road resurfacing initiatives over the next five years.

Commissioner Michael Moran responded to Anderson’s remarks by noting, “Nobody ever anticipated” the jump in inflation that the United States has been experiencing. “It’s just craziness.”

Nonetheless, Moran acknowledged that road resurfacing is “a quality of life thing.” Chair Cutsinger agreed with him.

“Let’s hope things moderate a little bit,” Cutsinger added, referring to inflation.