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Ennis Daily News

County roads hot topic at town hall meeting

Bill Dodson addresses unhappy crowd at library last evening
It was a roasting Thursday for County Commissioner Bill Dodson, but not the fun kind.
Dodson, commissioner for Precinct 2, held a town hall meeting at the Ennis Public Library, giving dissatisfied county residents a chance to hear what’s taking place regarding local roadways and to ask questions as to why the county’s largest precinct receives the same maintenance funding as precincts half its size.
Dodson said it was his hope to provide insight on the issue. He did and many residents were prepared to give their point of view, too.
“The roads were good in 2000,” Dodson said. “Today the roads are terrible.”
Currently Precinct 2 is made up of 338 square miles, and road mileage accounts for 344 miles. This makes up 35 percent of road mileage for the county but Dodson said he only gets 26 percent of funds reserved for roads and bridges in the budget, including those of Precincts 1 and 4, which consist of 80 and 118 square miles and 188 (16 percent) and 156 (19 percent) road miles respectively.
Despite these areas having half the road mileage as Dodson’s Precinct 2 they each get 24 percent of the budget for road and bridge repairs. The amount of money allocated per road mile for each precinct is $9,309 for Precinct 4, $7,523 for Precinct 1, $6,429 for Precinct 3, which has 30 percent – or 279 miles– of roadway mileage in its 273 square miles and $4,665 for Precinct 2.
The road miles per employee in Precinct 2 is 22.9. This is more than double that of Precinct 4, which has 11.1 road miles per employee. Precinct 3, run by Commissioner Heath Sims, has 19.3 road miles per employee and Precinct 2 contains 12.5 road miles per employee.
So what has changed to put the southeastern tip of Ellis County in this position? Dodson listed several reasons for the problem of not having enough money to repair roadways, including the 2001 tax rollback redistricting that added 20 miles to Precinct 2, inflation costs of repair materials, dollars being allocated based on population rather than mileage, increased population and increased vehicle traffic external to the county.
“The County Commission needs to set down some priorities,” Dodson said.
“We need to conduct some studies to find out what our needs are. I hate to say to shut the gate to new development because we are such a fast growing county.”
A 172.8 percent inflation increase is an average cost of the materials needed to improve roadways such as fuel, asphalt, flex base and chip seal rock. This compares to a 14 percent increase in the budget since 2002.
“I came into this job from working for a business,” Dodson said. “It is very disheartening to come into a position after you based everything on a profit and now I’m trying to serve the public. The roads were not in that good of shape when I came into office.”
According to Dodson, to lay down a first coat of chip seal costs $13,908 per mile and a second coat costs $10,295 per mile for a total of $24,203.
A high volume road, consisting of traffic with more than 125 vehicles a day, will last five to seven years with two chip seal coats.
A low volume roadway with one chip seal coat can last three to five years. Dodson said 80 percent of the roads in Precinct 2 have more than 150 vehicles of traffic daily.
Among the many questions Dodson tackled Thursday night was why certain roads were being ground up and covered with gravel. Dodson said that to improve roads in the long run by chip sealing they first had to be turned to gravel. He admitted that 6-8 miles of street have been turned into gravel roadways with no plans to chip seal them. Some of this is due to the impact Country Thunder USA will have on the area when the music mega-concert comes to town, but other roads – like Hornik Road east of Ennis – will receive the same treatment.
“You’re just turning back time,” Mike Farmer said. “It is creating problems and killing property value. It hurt our property values and hurt everyone in Ellis County.”
Farmer and other Hornik Road residents claimed the dirt and gravel has already started to slide off due to recent rains and flooding. They told Dodson the road needed patchwork in spots but the entire street didn’t need to be graveled.
Dodson received some assistance from fellow Commissioner Heath Sims from Precinct 3 to help field some of the complaints. Sims told Farmer and the Hornik Road group that it was more cost efficient to grind up the street than do patchwork here and there.
“The roads are screwed up,” Sims said. “There’s a big discrepancy in how the money is split up. We need to draw a line and decide that our roads are more important.”
By the end of the meeting it was clear serious change was needed.
“We’re angry and upset,” Brenda Beauchamp said. “We don’t want to drive through potholes. Tell us what we need to do. I’ll be on the front steps of the courthouse if needed.”
Dodson agreed that citizens showing up in force with one person assigned to speak for the group would definitely show how serious the issue has become in Precinct 2.
The way money is allocated is decided through a vote by the County Commission with the tie-breaking vote coming from County Judge Chad Adams, according to Dodson. Since commissioners of Precincts 1 and 4, Dennis Robinson and Ron Brown, currently get just as much money as Dodson and Sims without having as much area to cover they would likely vote to keep things as they are.
To make a difference a case is going to have to be made to Judge Adams, showing him the current system is flawed.
“Let the judge understand your frustration,” Dodson told his audience.

Matt Cook is a staff wroter and web editor for the Ennis Daily News.

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Posted by on Apr 25 2008. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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