GOSHEN — In ideal circumstances, Elkhart County would pave the road in front of your house every 20 years and bridges would be pothole-free, but as highway manager Jeff Taylor told county leaders Wednesday, funding just isn’t available.
The Elkhart County Highway Department painted a grim picture of the future at Wednesday’s county budget hearing, a portrait of million-dollar deficits and roads in desperate need of repair. Taylor told the Elkhart County Council that road and bridge maintenance is falling behind, and without more funding, repairs will continue to lag and cost the county more money in the long run.
“This is something that’s coming at us fast and hard, and we’re going to have to figure out what to do with it,” Taylor said.
The county has 788 miles of numbered county roads, a dozen miles of four-lane roads and 276 miles of subdivision roads, according to Taylor. The average life cycle for resurfacing, he said, is two decades, but for the county to keep up with that schedule, the highway department would need $4.4 million. The budget for 2013 is only $1 million, he said. At that rate, roads would be paved every 78 years.
The highway department spends $10,000 per mile to chip and seal cracks on county roads. This year, 80 miles of roadway were chipped and sealed. Taylor noted that if asphalt roads are not regularly maintained, reconstruction could cost between $250,000 and $500,000 per mile.
For the county to keep up with rehabilitation and repair of bridges, the highway department would need a budget of roughly $4.5 million, Taylor said. The department’s deficit for bridgework is more than $2.2 million.
“These shortfalls are tremendous,” council vice president Dennis Sharkey commented.
Taylor said the short term solution would be to shore up using funds from the economic development income tax, or EDIT.
“Long term, Elkhart County utilizing EDIT, utilizing the wheel tax is one step ahead of many counties that don’t utilize EDIT for roads and don’t have a wheel tax,” Taylor told the council. “If you think we’re in bad shape, you should talk to my counterparts.”
Council president John Letherman said he has been in touch with county officials along the U.S. Highway 31 who are in the same boat.
“These guys are broke,” he said. “They’re tearing up roads all over down through there because there’s just no money coming in from the gas tax, or so little money that they can’t maintain what they have.”
The council will continue budget discussions today, Sept. 13, to finalize the county’s 2013 spending plan. The board will meet for a work session at 8:30 a.m. at the Elkhart County Administration Building in Goshen.