Three county commissioners agree that more money will have to be allocated to road-resurfacing program in coming years to maintain policy on overall conditions

Instead of $10 million a year, Commissioner Maio proposes $13 million to $15 million, with discussions to come about where to find the extra funds

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

In May 2013, with then-Sarasota County Commissioners Nora Patterson and Christine Robinson taking the lead, the board members agreed to boost the road resurfacing allocation to $10 million a year.

Then-Chief County Engineer James K. Harriott Jr. had confirmed that that would be the amount necessary to keep no 60% of the roads at an Overall Condition Index (OCI) of 60. When a road falls below an OCI of 60, he explained, that is when the commissioners and staff begin hearing complaints from drivers.

Fast forward to 2019: After listening to an in-depth presentation on May 21 by Rohini Bobba, a technical specialist in the county’s Transportation Division, Commissioner Alan Maio won agreement from two of his board colleagues that another $3 million to $5 million should be added to the $10 million figure for the 2020 fiscal year. That would enable staff to deal with factors making it more difficult for the county to adhere to the standard Harriott talked about almost exactly six years ago.

Chair Charles Hines and Commissioner Nancy Detert also voiced their willingness to boost the road-resurfacing budget for FY20.

“It’s the old ‘Pay me now or pay me later’ [scenario],” Detert pointed out.

A graph shows the rise in expenses for road resurfacing. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Michael Moran was absent from the May 21 meeting, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler did not comment on Bobba’s presentation.

The next step, Maio indicated, will be the tougher one: [Deciding] “where does [the extra money] come from.”

In other words, what will the board have to carve out of its FY20 budget to boost the resurfacing program.

Sitting in for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis — who was out of town, staff told The Sarasota News Leader — Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho, said that that decision-making process would be part of the commission’s June budget workshops.

During her remarks, Bobba pointed to two primary factors that have reduced the reach of resurfacing funds: the rising cost of asphalt and the necessity of incorporating additional work into projects to ensure compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).

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.

For the past few years, Bobba said, the ADA-compliance work has represented 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. Divvying up those segments by condition, she continued, 7.96% have an OCI above 90, which is considered “Excellent.” Another 13.71% are rated “Very Good”; 21.53%, “Good”; and 15.45%, “Satisfactory.”

Another 26.82% of the roads have an OCI between 50 and 60, giving them an “Undesirable” rating, she said. The final group, with an OCI below 50, makes up 14.53% of the road network.

A page on the county’s website allows visitors to see areas where road resurfacing tentatively has been scheduled for the next five years. Image from scgov.net

A county webpage enables members of the public to review the five-year road resurfacing schedule, Bobba noted. However, she cautioned that the information is subject to change year-to-year, given the commission’s final priorities in its Capital Improvement Program (CIP)

Inflation has been another concern, Bobba pointed out. From 2010 to 2018, she noted, the cost of asphalt rose 29% — from $79 per ton to $94 per ton. Other expenses related to resurfacing — including the construction itself — have increased 23%. Altogether, those inflationary factors equate to $2.6 million of the $10-million annual resurfacing budget, she said.

Money-saving options

If the county were to continue to focus just on resurfacing to maintain its roads, Bobba told the board, staff projects that it will need about $17 million per year through 2027 to maintain the standard of 60% of roads at OCI 60 or above.

However, she continued, a preventive maintenance initiative can stretch the county dollars. No such program exists within the Transportation Division, she pointed out. Repairs are made when complaints come in about potholes and damage related to heavy truck usage, for examples, she said.

A graph shows how a mix of road preservation measures and resurfacing could save money. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then Bobba discussed three road preservation alternatives that staff had researched. “The aging process cannot be stopped completely” through their use, she explained, but if measures are taken while the pavement is still in good condition, the aging of a road will be slowed. “Each dollar that we spend [on preservation] will improve the level of service [of the road].”

A graph she showed the board indicated that staff could keep 60% of the roads at 60 OCI or higher by paying about $15 million a year for a combination of resurfacing and preservation projects.

Staff also recommended that the commission consider using new technologies available for road inspections, Bobba said, at a cost of $150,000 spread over three years. That initiative would help staff develop its road resurfacing priorities, she added, noting that staff would like to see it begin in the 2021 fiscal year.

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