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Much discussion, but
no solutions heard

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Plenty of discussion, many problem areas identified but no real solutions discussed in depth.

That might be the best summary of a public meeting to discuss development of a master plan for roads in Platte County.

"The disappointing thing is that we really did not hear any recommendations or solutions from our constituents," Steve Wegner, second district county commissioner, said after the meeting.

More than 130 county residents—the vast majority of whom live in the unincorporated area of the county—gathered at the Platte County Administration Building on Monday night for a lengthy presentation and discussion about the state of the county's roads.

Most of the talk centered on the health and safety hazards and inconvenience caused by the 155 miles of gravel roads in Platte County Road District No. 1 (also known as the county common road district) which is under the jurisdiction of the county commission.

A presentation by Wegner opened the meeting.

"We are extremely aware that we have a road and bridge problem in Platte County," Wegner told the crowd.

He said of the county's 69 bridges, 38 of them are rated as deficient or obsolete by the state. It would cost an $11 million just to fix all the bridge problems, he said.

Wegner added that drainage is a primary cause of bad road conditions in the common road district.

"Road drainage is just horrible throughout the county," he said.

He explained that the county has recently invested in a piece of equipment known as a reclaimer, which he believes will be valuable in helping crews maintain roads. The new machine will proved the county with an alternative to asphalt that will add 15-20 years of life to a road. The plan is to use the reclaimer on four to five miles of road per year.

The machine penetrates the top layer of a road as well as part of the base material. Then it uniformly pulverizes and blends them together to create a stabilized 8-inch base.

"If we have a solid base and good drainage, chip and seal roads can last 15-20 years and are more affordable than asphalt," Wegner said.

He said the county commission has developed a plan to upgrade the road maintenance equipment used by the public works department.

"Just six years ago, the average model year for the equipment in public works was 1978. Today the average model year is 1991. But there is no doubt that more improvements need to be made," he said.

In the next two years the county intends to upgrade the following equipment—2002: pad foot and steel roller, two dump trucks with snow plows, recycler, two motorgraders, a pickup truck; 2003: motorgrader, tandem dump truck, two dump trucks with snow plows, and a sweeper.

"Better equipment means less downtime for county road crews," Wegner said.

Reviewed at the meeting were results of a citizen survey conducted in November. More than 700 households were asked to rate, among other things, the most important needed road improvements. The top five choices were eliminating potholes, clearing brush at least six feet from roads, improving drainage to decrease flooding, improving bridges in areas with flooding, and paving gravel roads.

During discussion, a microphone was passed around the meeting room and many residents offered comments and identified problem areas, such as Jones-Meyer Road and Baker Road, among others.

Officials said the purpose of the meeting was to try to move past being aware of the problems and move on to finding a solution to problems. In that regard, the meeting didn't seem to break new ground.

County officials have said the biggest challenge the county faces when it comes to road maintenance is funding.

Currently, residents who live in Road District Number One pay a combined $798,000 in property taxes each year to the district. But more than $500,000 of that goes annually to department salaries, though the staff has been reduced from 22 to 19 in the last five years. The result, they say, is that the county is forced into a situation where all available funds must go to maintenance, not needed improvements.

Other funding options must be studied, and ultimately it will be up to the task force and county voters to decide which options are best.

The possibility of sales tax designated for roads was briefly mentioned by a member of the audience.

"I'd be willing to pay more for a (sales) tax for roads, but not for a tax that goes to the general fund," said Ron Canaday, who lives on a gravel road north of Platte City.

"My road is worse now than it was when I moved there. Our road maintenance is a disgrace," Canaday said.

Another resident said she'd like to see the voters of the common road district agree to increase the property tax they pay for roads.

Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight pointed out that several years ago, a previous county commission sought a property tax increase for roads in the county's common road district, but the measure was soundly defeated.

The level of funding that is ultimately approved will determine what the county can do in regard to making improvements.

County officials said it takes $256,000 to pave one mile of road with eight inches of asphalt. It would take nearly $73 million to asphalt all the gravel roads in the county.

Wegner said he feels the chip and seal (reclaimer) effort could eventually go a long way to solving some of the problems currently caused by gravel roads.

"We should be able to do a decent job with a reclaiming project," he told the crowd.

The county has been working on a roads master plan since last year. In addition to hiring a consulting firm—HNTB—to assist with the plan, the county commission also appointed 25 residents to an oversight committee. That committee has met several times to discuss issues related to roads and bridges.

Wegner said the next step by the county will be to get together with the oversight committee and the consulting firm of HNTB to come up with some solutions.

"We'll need to put together a final package, hold a public hearing to present that package and hopefully we'll hit it, and I think we will," he said Tuesday.

He explained the task force would probably meet in April, the county would meet with the consultants in May, in June the task force would review the recommendations, and possibly in July another public hearing will be held. After that, the matter will come to the county commission to make a decision, especially if there's a taxing issue involved.

"And there's going to have to be a taxing issue involved, because the money is not in the budget," Wegner remarked.