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The Indiana Avenue Bridge in Goshen is seen Tuesday, July 12, 2011 and has recently been uncovered showing its new red color as renovation work continues on the bridge near The Old Bag Factory. ¬ (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)
County highway department could see savings with in-house engineering

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 13, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.

GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Highway Department could save big bucks by hiring a new engineer for bridge design projects rather than relying on consulting firms for the work.

With budgets shrinking year after year, the highway department has been looking around every corner to find ways to save money. County engineer Jay Grossman said Monday, May 13, that the highway department could save close to $91,000 annually by hiring a bridge engineer to help handle upcoming construction projects.

The highway department has four engineers on staff. Three are full-time and one works part-time, Grossman said. When the county’s head bridge engineer temporarily left the highway department last summer for another job, consultants were hired to work on the county’s bridge projects. That’s when the highway department realized how valuable having an in-house bridge engineer is, Grossman said.

Grossman said the beams on the Simonton Street bridge in Elkhart had deteriorated quickly since its last inspection. If the highway department would not have had to hire a consultant for the construction project, the county would have saved roughly $61,500 on engineering costs. The project began in August 2012, and construction will wrap up this summer.

The highway department has three bridge design projects under contract with consultants. The preliminary engineering portion of the contracts totals $388,150. Seven bridge replacement projects are scheduled through 2016 with an estimated cost of $580,000 for preliminary engineering.

Grossman said the highway department would prefer a job candidate for the full-time position with a master’s degree in civil engineering. The salary would be between $55,000 and $68,000 plus benefits based on qualifications and experience.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Mike Yoder, county commissioner.

Yoder added, however, that convincing the Elkhart County Council to approve the position may not be “super smooth sailing.” The county council has been asking department heads to cut budgets and shrink their staffs through attrition.

Jeff Taylor, highway department manager, said he sees several benefits in using in-house staff for bridge design work beyond the monetary savings, adding that the county’s engineers take “ownership in their work.”

“The quality that we get in terms of design and inspections on our staff is higher than a consulting firm,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to downplay consultants or their staff. I don’t know how to describe it, but when the employee is doing it, there’s something about the outcome that’s a whole lot better.”