Area public works leaders talk road conditions following stormy winter


Roads across the region have taken a beating following a winter with multiple storms. Representatives from the Riley and Pottawatomie County as well as the City of Manhattan governments discussed how the season impacted each of their roads at a joint city/county/county meeting Thursday.

The Riley-Pottawatomie County area has seen 13 storms since November, 2018 with 10 of those occurring in 2019. Riley County Public Works Director Leon Hobson says the region saw multiple partial freeze/thaw cycles during that time — but the warm weather that the area has been seeing has stopped those cycles for now and allowed a lot of the frozen moisture to melt off or trickle through roads.

Riley County

Hobson says that paved roads around Riley County have fared decently — especially compared to the state of rock/gravel roads.

“The county rock roads developed quite a few soft spots out in the driving surface, the shoulders got exceptionally soft and there was also some rutting,” Hobson says.

And township gravel roads were hit even harder. He says that the soft spots on those surfaces were large, rutting was severe and some even became impassable to damage.

“They have much smaller budgets and their resources are really being strained,” Hobson says, adding that many townships across the state are dealing with similar difficulties.

And those repetitive storms didn’t come without a price tag for the county, either. Materials for de-icing roads cost the county $84,000 so far in 2019 — surpassing Hobson’s $74,000 budget. Snow removal crews also put in 3,250 hours in 2019 — 745 of which were overtime hours.

“That overtime cost around $39,000,” says Hobson. “Which is 50 percent of my overtime budget this year.”

They’ve also used 7,200 tons of rock to repair roads, costing about $79,000 — just over 25 percent of the total budget for those materials.

“And I expect that numbers to increase dramatically over the next couple of months as we are going to continuing to be putting rock on these roads,” says Hobson.

Hobson says the only fix is to let roads dry out, which may be tough with rain looming in this weekend’s forecast.

Pottawatomie County

Pott County’s 820 miles of gravel roads felt winter’s effects as well, according to Pott County Public Works Director Peter Clark.

Similarly, their asphalt faired well compared to rock surfaces. Clark didn’t bring budget numbers to the meeting, instead talking about their plan of attack to get their gravel roads up to snuff again.

Clark says they’ll be putting all of their resources toward getting rock surface roads up to snuff, but they’ll be limited by the weather and number of trucks available to supply gravel their motor graders. To help in the truck department, he says they’ve put out bids for contracts to assist their grader fleet and that they’ll award as many as possible.
“Whoever is available and has the lowest price on the list, we’ll use them first and augment them in addition to our fleet of trucks who can haul material to the roads,” Clark says.
He says they’ll have to act quickly in windows between wet conditions that will be ideal to put rock on roads. Crews and contractors are planning to work as much as possible — including weekends and overtime — during patches of good weather to get as much repairs done as quick as they can.
“We know that having all of our farmers and our residents back on the roads and being able to get to all of their fields and do all their operations is of utmost criticality for our county,” says Clark.
Manhattan hasn’t had to deal with issues on rock surface, but if you’ve driven around the city then you’ve probably seen a pothole or two — or 10. Manhattan Public Works Director Robert Ott says the majority of failures around the city occurred at joints and where there were thin overlays of asphalt.
“They’re at the end of their life now and this winter completely failed them,” says Ott. “The West Andersons, the Kimballs, some of those segments [have failed]— and we’ve all seen them and been impacted.”
Ott says they are in the second year of a two year program to keep road maintenance spending to $4 million total, which has held them back from a lot of preventative maintenance.
“There’s techniques that we haven’t used for years because we’re just trying to fix the worst ones first,” Ott says. “We’re trying to get closer to being more preventative, but we’re still several years out.”
Ott also says that Manhattan has an intense year of road work planned around the city. A host of projects are planned, including concrete joint repairs on Vanesta and Kimball, major enhancements around North Manhattan and at the intersection of Kimball and College that will impact football season, and the continuation of the Juliette brick restoration project and more.
Ott says his budget will make him have to prioritize some projects over others.
“We may have to push some of those second and third phases because I’m going to have to address things like Anderson and Sunset and Poyntz,” says Ott. “They got 10,000 to 15,000 cars per day versus 2,000 cars on a local street.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Usha Reddi asked if they have heard anything regarding additional revenue from KDOT. Ott says historically they’ve had flat revenue from the state for infrastructure and hasn’t heard of any Kansas bills or initiatives to increase fuel tax or allocate additional funds to municipalities.

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