It may feel like spring, but the winter weather has taken a toll on the roads in the county. “Once water gets down to the base of a road bed and freezes it starts deteriorating,” County Engineer Dan Dahlke said.
Dahlke oversees somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 miles of road in his position as county engineer.
Nearly every road in the county is paved, which is a blessing as much as it is a curse.
The handful of roads not paved that are controlled by the county generally aren’t noticeable by the public, Dahlke, who has been with the road department for 18 years said.
In 1994 the County Commission decided that it was in its best interest to pave every road possible in order to keep progress flowing throughout the area. That means Dahlke oversees about 1,000 miles of roadways.
When it comes to having all the roads here paved, Dahlke said, “It made sense in a lot of ways because we used to have one crew that went year-round cutting and blading dirt roads and we had another that would go around adding base to dirt roads. “I think we’re pretty lucky in a lot of aspects. The average citizen might not realize because they don’t live in surrounding counties that do have dirt roads.”
Right now the county is in the process of starting to repair bigger spots where the winter weather has deteriorated roads.
The county already had to patch and do temporary work in recent months, but Dahlke wanted citizens to know “that’s not a permanent fix.”
Last month’s low temperatures at night keep crews from being able to go in with a liquid-type asphalt to make permanent repairs.
The county maintains an asphalt distributor that sprays liquid out and crews can then put rock on top of it. “Some roads have been fixed like that; then others were repaired with plant mix like on Highway 231,” Dahlke said. “That has to be purchased from an outside source and then applied… It’s not cheap, either.”
The cost of plant mix asphalt and concrete has soared in recent years, causing some headaches for city leaders when it comes to repairing roads.
“On the bright side of things, some of it has actually gotten better,” Dahlke said of county roadways. “There was one spot (in Ashville) that we thought it was going to come apart, but it has dried out and the pavement looks better.” While he won’t say ithat spot has healed, he did note “It’s not getting any worse.”
Road crews are working full time now, patching county wide. In recent weeks there have been maintenance crews on Pinedale Shore Drive, a few crews that are cutting back right of ways with mowers in Pell City. They recently put a hot asphalt mix on No Business Road.
Dahlke said it is a constant juggling act to keep maintenance up on roads in St. Clair County “Especially in this time when we see our budget getting smaller and the prices of materials are up.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s there were more miles that could get paved. “I felt that we were overall making the county better and better. Right now we’re sort or trying to keep what we have.”
The amount of material is about the same as it was 15 years ago and labor costs are down per lane mile.
“Everybody should start realizing before they get driving around, even on the interstate that are some roads across the county and state that are deteriorating and there will have to be some sort of funding that comes around sometime to fix that,” he said.
On Tuesday the Heart of Alabama Regional Planning Organization (HARPO) will meet in St. Clair County to ask for the public’s input on what big projects they would like to see done in this area.
Long-term priorities for the county include the possibility for a cut-through from Interstate 59 to Interstate 20.