Pavement preservation program expected to help Sarasota County staff contend with increased expenses for road resurfacing

Data from Charlotte County and state showing effectiveness of process, Public Works director says

This slide, shown to the commissioners on May 15, summarizes details of the county’s Pavement Management Program. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As the staff of Sarasota County’s Public Works Department continues to contend with escalating costs for road resurfacing projects, early indications from Charlotte County and state initiatives are that the county’s Pavement Preservation Program will end up saving taxpayers money.

During the County Commission’s May 15 budget workshop, Spencer Anderson, director of the Public Works Department, reminded the board members that the county’s Pavement Management Program has the goal of maintaining 60% of the county roadways at a condition rating equal to or greater than 60, with 100 the highest level.

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.

Moreover, Anderson noted on May 15, an automated condition assessment system is allowing personnel to update road conditions every three years. “That’s much better than we had been doing,” he pointed out, which was assessing road segments every five to 10 years.

The automated system costs less, too, than sending staff members out to analyze roadways, Anderson said.

A trailer with the equipment is hauled to specific areas to collect the data, he continued. It “picks up vibrations and pavement distress.”

When Commissioner Neil Rainford asked for clarification that staff is prioritizing roadway resurfacing based on the data collected, Anderson replied, “Correct.”

After a roadway has been resurfaced, Anderson explained, the Pavement Preservation Program — which staff implemented in the 2021 fiscal year — is used to maintain the road’s flexibility. “Instead of the pavement sitting there, baking under the Florida sun for years on end and getting very brittle and hard” and then distressed, he said, staff can sprays an emulsion on the pavement to keep it flexible. The emulsion sinks into the roadway, he added.

Without that emulsion, Anderson noted, given the state’s weather —including the heat — the base of a road can begin to dilapidate, which allows rain to damage the pavement itself.

“We’re very early in [this program],” Anderson pointed out of the preservation process. So far this fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1, 2023 — staff has used the program on 60 lane miles, he said.

Spencer Anderson addresses the commissioners on Jan. 30. File image

While staff has no long-term data yet, he continued, staff has seen indications that the program can extend the life of a roadway segment from five to 15 years, depending on the location.

Data developed by Charlotte County staff and by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), he indicated, “does suggest this is a very well-spent investment.”

The emulsion is used on roadways every three years, he added. “It’s pennies on the dollar, compared to the actual resurfacing [cost].”

“I think it’s great we have the ability to use that,” Commissioner Joe Neunder told Anderson.

“We are trying to stretch every dollar we can in the pavement program,” Anderson replied.

Then Anderson pointed out that, three years ago, the commissioners seated at that time agreed to allow the Public Works staff to apply the Engineering News Record Building Cost Index, as of Jan. 1 each year, to the county’s road resurfacing budget, in an effort to provide enough funding to keep up with the target of keeping 60% of the county roads at the 60 condition rating, or higher.

For the current fiscal year, a chart showed, the county’s pavement management funding ended up being $16,686,429, as the index of 8.39% was applied to the 2023 fiscal year budget of $13,791,700; the additional money from using the index was $1,157,124.

The index adjustment for the 2025 fiscal year will be 3.77%, the chart said, giving the Public Works staff $15,512,395.

For this fiscal year, Anderson continued, “We had some projects that came in significantly over budget …” However, he added, staff was able to find an extra $1,737,605 from gas tax revenue and other sources, to end up with the nearly $16.7-million total.

This is the chart showing the application of the index to the county’s road pavement management budgets. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In response to a question from Commissioner Rainford, Anderson said the funds for this fiscal year are being used for both resurfacing and pavement preservation work.

Then Rainford pointed out that the county has budgeted tens of millions of dollars for new building construction — including the Planning and Development Services’ new One Stop facility on the Northwest “Quad” parcel next to the Celery Fields. Yet, Rainford pointed out, “I don’t think we’re keeping up with the needson our roadways.”
He added that it seems he gets constituents’ questions about road conditions every day.

Looking at the budget amount for the 2025 fiscal year, Rainford asked Anderson whether that would cover even a third of the work that should be done.

“We’re able to meet our level of service,” Anderson responded, referring to the goal of keeping 60% of the roads at a condition level of 60 or better.

A focus on higher resurfacing costs

Anderson then delved into the issue of escalating resurfacing expenses. “Starting in [the 2023 fiscal year],” he said, “the bids were pretty much double what we had estimated, reflecting higher overall construction expenses in general. However, he added, “I’m hearing that there is some leveling off of asphalt cost.”

For example, he said, the bids the county received for resurfacing the sections of Beneva Road that were affected by the years-long Bahia Vista Parallel Force Main Project reflected “maybe a little less of an increase” in the asphalt expense.

(That work on Beneva Road has begun.)

“I’m so shocked by the escalation [of road resurfacing costs],” Commissioner Neunder told Anderson, referencing another slide that Anderson had shown the board.

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Carolyn Eastwood, director of the county’s Capital Projects Department, explained that staff works with a consultant to come up with estimates for the bid range for a specific undertaking. Nonetheless, she conceded, she does not know “what the disconnect is” between what the consultant comes up with and the bids that the county receives. Those estimates from the consultant, she added, typically are generated just before staff advertises for bids.

Eastwood did note that two local companies typically bid on each resurfacing project.

Anderson added that staff plans resurfacing projects over a five-year timeline; yet, the final bids determine how many of those initiatives can be completed each year.

“We’re almost a complete year’s budget behind on these projects,” he noted of a slide showing various road segments to be repaved this year.

Starting in the 2022 fiscal year, the slide pointed out that seven resurfacing initiatives were estimated to cost $26,425,290, but what staff calls the “lowest responsive and responsible bids” — meaning those that are valid for consideration — added up to $45,268,144, for a difference of $18,842,854.

For example, the original estimate for a series of Siesta Key road segments was $3,773,550, the slide said. The total contract is $11,364,865.

When Commissioner Mark Smith, who lives on Siesta Key, asked whether the scope of work was increased four times, Anderson told him it was not.

Additional road segments were included in the Siesta Key initiative, Anderson said. (That work is expected to start next week. See the related article in this issue.) The section of Beach Road from the intersection of Midnight Pass Road north was an extra feature planned as part of that undertaking, Anderson added.

In the case of some segments, Anderson explained, repairs to the road base are necessary, which increase the overall cost. A significant amount of repair must be done to the base of Beach Road, he pointed out.

When Commissioner Rainford asked whether bundling smaller projects in one bid could lower the county’s expense, Eastwood of Capital Projects replied that such bundling routinely takes place to achieve “economies of scale.”

Rainford suggested more bundling should occur.

“If we put too many projects together,” Anderson responded, “it excludes the little guys who can’t do big projects.” Companies that handle state road initiatives — “the big players,” he said — end up being the only firms that bid on such bundles.

Anderson did point out that staff does work with the companies that receive road contracts on the indexing of the cost of asphalt as the work is underway. Therefore, he said, if the asphalt purchased at some points of a project costs less, the county pays a lower amount for that portion of the work.

These are the tentative plans for county road resurfacing in the 2025 and 2026 fiscal years, subject to change in accord with expense and funds available in the county budget. ‘Surtax 4’ refers to the next iteration of the county’s penny sales tax program, which generates money for each of the municipalities and the Sarasota County School Board, plus the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

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