Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — County supervisors tabled action on a pair of subdivision road improvements Tuesday morning, with questions remaining over the intricacies of payment policy for secondary road assessment districts.
County Engineer Jacob Thorius said the county would have to pay upfront for its share of the cost for paving proposed on 135th and 140th streets south of Riverside, even if that cost is shared with area residents who would pay it over several years.
A work session with subject matter specialists is planned in the near future as officials seek to more explicitly clarify the certificate process.
“I think it’d be right that we set up a work session with counsel we’ve used in the past for bonding projects,” Thorius said. “Not that I want to drag this out any more … I think understanding the certificates and the assessment district is vital on this project, considering that’s the way we’re going to look at doing this. This is a totally different type of project than what we’ve done with Brenneman or Premier.”
Another point of contention that remains unresolved is what surface the roads would be paved with.
While several supervisors have voiced support for a seal coat, Thorius has advocated concrete on the streets, a default choice of his office around the county.
“I call them dust control treatment, to keep the dust down instead of driving on just gravel,” he said. “A seal coat, there’s really no structure to that. An Otta seal, there’s more than that, but there’s still not a lot there.”
The difference in prices is stark. A memo to supervisors said the total cost of an Otta seal or seal coat surface for both roads would total $770,000 or $703,000, respectively, including the cost of grading. Both are far lower than the $1.82 million estimate for a concrete surface.
Thorius said seal coat and Otta seal options would cost more in the long run, with retreatments every 3-10 years at a cost of $40,000 to $75,000 a mile, depending on the materials used. For comparison, the estimated lifetime of a concrete surface is around 40 years.
Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. said he expected maintenance costs to come in lower for seal coat and Otta seal alternatives.
“From my understanding — and it’s been my experience driving roads like that — that you don’t have to do the entire length at the same time,” he said. “You might have to do between a quarter … and a half a mile in five years or seven years, rather than do the whole thing.”
The county may pitch both ideas to the residents of planned secondary road assessment districts to gauge local preferences. The petitions themselves must be proposed by local residents, but county officials are in negotiations to shape those plans.
“Ultimately, (the assessment district has) a petition that identifies the road, the improvement and who’s participating in it,” Thorius said. “That comes to the board, and then the board either accepts it or doesn’t.”
It may be misleading to calculate future costs of maintenance, however. Thorius said road lifetimes were averages, subject to wide variation.
”We’re going to do the best we can and think it’s going to succeed, and we may have an issue that we don’t know about because of quality of material, Mother Nature may throw something at us (or) the traffic might change significantly,“ he said. ”We can play a lot of what-ifs … the numbers I’m giving you are what we see as the industry averages that factor in the real good ones and the real bad ones. There’s stuff we can’t control.”
Another issue is prices. Material costs have grown volatile in recent years, making even short term predictions difficult.
On timelines of 40 or more years, cost predictions go from a crapshoot to outright impossible. Supervisors joked that flying car alternatives or, more realistically, more durable materials would be available that far out.
“We don’t know what concrete’s going to cost in 20 years, 40 years,” Board of Supervisors Chair Richard Young said. “Look what it’s done the last 10 years. Look what oil’s done, look at asphalt, we don’t have no idea.”
In addition to financing questions, some homeowners in the area remain skeptical of road improvements. If assessment districts are established, it would take the signature of at least 50% around the roads to sign off on a payment plan for the projects.
Grant Sojka, a Riverside resident, said he worried paving 135th street would hurt the city’s economy.
“What this does, in my opinion, is it creates a bypass around the city of Riverside itself,” he said. “What’s that going to do to their business when people have an immediate cutoff to go around Riverside, get on the interstate and shoot north?”
Susan Thomann, a farmer close to the secondary roads, said she had more personal concerns.
“I’m really concerned about my trees being completely wiped out when this road comes in,” she said. “My husband’s buried up on that hill, and that was the area that he chose for the solitude and the privacy up there … he didn’t ever really want to see this happen too, and it’s just kind of a coincidence since he’s passed that all this has started into gear again.”