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Snook: In next five years, we'll spend $25 million on roads

October 01, 2005|By Gregory I. Snook

Washington County highways are being reconstructed, repaved and repaired this year at a funding level almost five times higher than prior years. This aggressive highway restoration program is a strong response by the Board of County Commissioners to earmark $25 million over the next five years to address the county's pavement deficiencies.

As you know, we recently added $1 million from the 2005 surplus to the $3.32 million Pavement Management Program for fiscal year 2006, and have approved an option to utilize an additional $657,000 in funding from the previous fiscal year budget to add additional roads to the project. These actions bring the amount to be spent on roads to just at the $5 million mark.

Let me take a brief moment to talk about the record $12 million surplus for fiscal year 2005 and its origins.

We are experiencing growth in population, as folks who make large salaries in the Capitol corridor begin to migrate "over the mountain," but continue to work in or around Washington, D.C. We are controlling runaway sprawl, but many new homes are being built or have already been built and some have hefty price tags.

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These homes are being sold at a record rate and our county benefits, not only from taxes on recording of property deeds, but also in the amount of income tax base that the new homeowners bring with them.

After all, your local income taxes are paid to the county in which you live, not the county in which you work. This has resulted in much higher revenues than our budget predictions for the fiscal year. We received $4 million in new income taxes and $3.2 million in recordation taxes. Service fees for permits, police services and grant revenues rose and we received an increase in interest revenue due to an improving national economy.

With those surplus funds, we were able to give the county public schools an extra $3.5 million for badly needed maintenance projects, upped the cash reserves for the county, complied with some new fiscal regulations and helped the Commission on Aging in its quest for new office space. We were able to set aside funds to offset increases in building and paving materials that we know will come because of recent weather events in the South. And we still found a way to give taxpayers a small refund.

Now back to the original subject - our roads projects.

The Division of Public Works prioritized many road sections for improvements from Sandy Hook to Warfordsburg and from Mount Aetna to Hancock. Citizens saw a sharp increase in activity over the summer by paving crews from C. William Hetzer, Inc., of Hagerstown, the winning bidder for that contract.

The county's Pavement Maintenance Program employs a much broader and more cost-effective approach to pavement deficiencies than past pavement overlay programs. The program is generally described as asphalt preservation, repair and rehabilitation.

It includes, but is not limited to, crack repair and sealing, slurry seal, full depth patch, hot mix asphalt overlay, and full depth pavement reclamation or "reconstruction." In August, crews began placing six miles of hot mix asphalt overlay, 4.2 miles of full-depth reclamation, 21 miles of crack sealing, 9.7 miles of slurry seal, plus pavement markings and loop detectors.

If you've driven on Crystal Falls Drive, Maugansville Road or the Western Maryland Parkway recently, you may have an appreciation of the difference in the ride before and after rehabilitation.

There are many other roads in the county that will be receiving some form of improvement through the fall.

Our highway system contains some 850 miles of roads and streets that will, over time, need to be repaved, patched or replaced. We have embarked upon a project that will videotape each mile of our roadways to assess pavement condition.

That information will become a database for use in setting priorities for future pavement repair and reconstruction projects.

The county's Pavement Maintenance Program, taking place across the length and breadth of Washington County, is a positive step forward to efficiently and cost-effectively manage the usability of our highway system.

Gregory I. Snook is president of the board of the Washington County Commissioners.

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