EDITOR’S NOTE: An unusual season of heavy rain and flooding has taken its toll on Ellis County roads as county commissioners work to keep county roadways in their precincts both open and passable. In the following story, we asked each commissioner to respond to questions detailing how they are keeping up with what has become “The Year of the Pothole.”

Compiled by Anthony Trojan, WDL Staff Writer

Dennis Robinson, Pct. 1 Commissioner

Q: Please describe how work is planned and scheduled for your precinct’s road crews. Discuss proactive and reactive situations, i.e., ongoing maintenance plans and how emergency type situations (such as bad weather) are incorporated into the work flow.

A: We have a work crew of six employees that are dedicated to just rebuilding roads during our road season from May to September. If it is not raining or too wet they are rebuilding a road somewhere in Pct.1 during this time. We have a work crew of six employees that handle all other job duties such as mowing right of ways, pot hole repair, replacing culverts, replacing signage, addressing drainage, picking up trash, responding to complaints and assisting the road crew whenever needed for hauling material or applying the chip seal surface on the roadway. We have three seasonal part-time employees who assist where needed, one mechanic, one supervisor and one secretary. During this time of year our number one priority is rebuilding as many road miles as possible.

Q: Please discuss how your precinct prioritizes its work load for road maintenance and how flexible this process is, i.e., complaint driven, schedule driven, crew/material availability?

A: During the winter we begin preparing our road schedule for roads to be rebuilt or resurfaced for the coming year. We take into consideration our budget, amount of traffic, road condition and when the road was previously rebuilt. Our road season is only about 4-1/2 months long due to the temperatures that are required for the chip sealing process that we use on our roads. Bad weather does set us back and may not allow us to reach our goal for road miles in any given year. So it is very important that we work diligently during the road season to resurface and rebuild as many miles as possible. This process is not flexible at all; rebuilding roads has to be the first priority of any road commissioner. Just one year of bad management will push roads in need of repair further down the list — possibly taking years to get caught up because of the limited time we have during our road season.

Q: Please discuss the staffing and supervision of your precinct relating to road maintenance, as well as any accountability measures — such as daily work logs you might have in place.

We have work orders for calls that we receive. We keep a yearly total of road miles resurfaced and rebuilt ( 2005 - 17.07 miles rebuilt; 2006 - 17.50 miles rebuilt; 2007 - 10.20 miles already rebuilt and resurfaced; 2007 goal of 30.00 miles).

Q: Please provide the following for a “by the numbers” information about your precinct:

staffing numbers, can break out into crew, supervisors, etc.

A: Staff: six road rebuilding staff, six for general road maintenance, three seasonal part-time, one mechanic, one secretary and one supervisor.

types and quantity of equipment, including rented and owned

A: Equipment info would be very time consuming. You could probably get that through purchasing inventory.

number and type of miles in precinct, i.e., unpaved, paved, asphalt, concrete, etc. annual budget for roads and bridges

You should have road mile info and budget info (from county budget).

Q: Please discuss the effect the inclement weather this year has had on your roads.

A: No answer.

Q: Please provide any other comment you would like to make relating to roads and bridges.

A: No answer.

Bill Dodson Pct. 2 Commissioner

Q: Please describe how work is planned and scheduled for your precinct’s road crews. Discuss proactive and reactive situations, i.e., ongoing maintenance plans and how emergency type situations (such as bad weather) are incorporated into the work flow?

Also, please discuss how your precinct prioritizes its work load for road maintenance and how flexible this process is, i.e., complaint driven, schedule driven, crew/material availability?

A: Pct. 2 has an excel “Call Log” spread sheet for incoming calls identifying the date, caller, road and severity of the problem. Planned maintenance is based on current road conditions and volume of traffic. Safety plays a big part in the daily schedule to balance both the planned maintenance and the call log. The foreman, Sammy Pleiner, makes assignments each morning, prioritizing for safe road conditions. That afternoon or the following morning, the work crew and Sammy meet to discuss progress and next assignments.

Since taking office seven months ago, much of the “proactive” related road work has been set aside in favor of the “reactive” due to unsafe conditions created by the unusual weather conditions; safety is of utmost importance. Mother Nature has been unkind to the roads! Our road work calendar presently is focused on having the roads ready for school bus traffic and emergency 911 calls.

Q: Please discuss the staffing and supervision of your precinct relating to road maintenance, as well as any accountability measures —such as daily work logs you might have in place.

A: We have eight-hour work days, but, we actually are on call 24/7. We are notified by the sherriff’s office when necessary after hours. Sammy Pleiner, foreman, is also in charge of emergency duties.

I personally drive the roads in the afternoon and weekend for first-hand observation to determine areas that need attention. We are making an effort to correct any unsafe road conditions.

Q: Please provide the following for a “by the numbers” information about your precinct:

types and quantity of equipment, including rented and owned

A: General construction equipment is in good condition. The pickup fleet is 1990 - 2001 model vehicles with 100,000 miles plus and in poor condition.

Number and type of miles in precinct, i.e., unpaved, paved, asphalt, concrete, etc.

A: Concrete Roads - 3.5 miles

Chip Seal- 224.5 miles

Gravel Roads- 60 miles

Dirt Roads- 20 miles

Approximately 40 percent of the chip seal roads are in poor condition and need to be reclaimed. Chip sealed roads are great when in good condition, but are very difficult and time consuming to maintain as they age.

annual budget for roads and bridges (staffing numbers, can break out into crew, supervisors, etc.

A: 2006/2007 Budget Year

Foreman -Sammy Pleiner

Secretary -Judy Borders

Road Crew -13

Seasonal - Retired employee who mows the roads May-October

Summer Help - two college students hired to help with potholes

Combined Road Bridge and Farm Market Budget — $1,669,686. ($230,891 or 12.1 percent less than 2002)

2001/2002 Budget Year

Foreman- Sammy Pleiner

Secretary- Judy Borders

Road Crew- 18

Combined Road Bridge and Farm Market Budget- $1,900,577

Q: Please discuss the effect the inclement weather this year has had on your roads.

A: The torrential rains have been devastating, with estimated costs of more than $531,812 damage to the roads and bridges in March and another $66,244 or more in June. A lot of time was spent riding the roads to clear debris and checking bridges and barricading for high water. The rain has also caused excessive growth of grass and tree over-hang in the right of ways. Additional tasks are added to the road and bridge work list as fast as we take them off. The rain has caused an ongoing process of “catch up.”

Q: Please provide any other comment you would like to make relating to roads and bridges.

A: Increased material cost and a reduced budget has created havoc!!

Heath Sims, Pct. 3 Commissioner

Q: Please describe how work is planned and scheduled for your precinct’s road crews.

A: We have an estimated 275 miles of road in Precinct 3 and that equates to 550 miles of ditch line and right of way and scheduling is not the easiest thing to do. We are also the only precinct to have two work barns — Italy and Maypearl. Our road crew is divided between the two locations. Work is planned by priority from the highest to the lowest. High priority work is typically major bridge damage, collapsed culverts, impassable roads and pot holes. Minor priority work is typically stolen road signs, limbs in ditches, dust control and etc.

In addition, a survey is made each year of the roads in the precinct and our list of roads needing to be redone during the year is updated. Roads may be completely rebuilt or they may be scheduled for patch work or repair with new rock brought in. A basic timeline is figured for each road and a calendar is put into place. During the year, the calendar and list may be amended or changed depending on other circumstances such as weather or funding. This year we planned to build or rebuild 24 miles of road in 2007, but because of the rains we’ve had we’ve reduced that number drastically to roughly six miles of roadway.

Q: Discuss proactive and reactive situations, i.e., ongoing maintenance plans and how emergency type situations (such as bad weather) are incorporated into the work flow.

A: It is sad to say that most of what we do is reactive, but we are the only precinct attempting to change that situation by using processes like cement stabilization. By adding a mixture of cement to the road base we are able to add to the load bearing capacity of the road and extend the life expectancy. One of our busiest roads in the precinct was built nearly 20 years ago with cement stabilization and we’re only now to the point where a new top needs to be added to the roadway. We are also starting a proactive maintenance program that consists of “Fog Sealing” which basically means crack sealing roads to prevent moisture from penetrating the base surface. Fog sealing will be done to a road every three to four years and helps extend the life of the road and decrease the need for reconstruction. Fog sealing is done through a process of spraying a thin layer of emulsion on top of the chip sealed road.

Remember that the majority of roads built by Ellis County are chip sealed which uses a thin layer of emulsion (asphalt) sprinkled with a thin layer of chips (rock). This process does not increase the load bearing capacity of the road but serves as a rain coat only.

Another issue we run into is that weather dictates needs and priorities and in emergencies, plans change because what was a minor problem all of a sudden becomes major and expensive.

According to the National Resources Conservation Services, the heavy rains this year cost precinct three an estimated $412,600. This figure is based mainly on soil erosion, damage to bridges and other drainage structures. It does not include gravel or other repairs done before the NRCS inspectors came or sites they did not inspect. Overall we estimate our damages to be between $500,000 and $600,000.

Q: Please discuss how your precinct prioritizes its work load for road maintenance and how flexible this process is, i.e., complaint driven, schedule driven, crew/material availability?

A: Scheduling work is a priority to maintain efficiency. However, complaints, material availability, equipment breakdowns and weather are all players. We must remain flexible and ready to change our schedule as needs arrive. We like to keep a backup plan ready when we see the chances of inclement weather increasing. There is always work that can be done, regardless of the weather conditions or the status of our equipment.

Q: Please discuss the staffing and supervision of your precinct relating to road maintenance, as well as any accountability measures — such as daily work logs you might have in place.

A: We currently employee 17 workers of which we have a foreman, two supervisors, a secretary, one part-time employee, one temporary summer employee and 11 others that do jobs that range anywhere from mechanic to road flagger. We also keep daily work logs that show what each employee did and where and our logs also show what equipment was driven and where it was used.

Q: Please provide the following for a “by the numbers” information about your precinct:

staffing numbers, can break out into crew, supervisors, etc.

A: We currently employee 17 workers of which we have a foreman, two supervisors, a secretary, one part-time employee, one temporary summer employee and 11 others that do jobs that range anywhere from mechanic to road flagger.

types and quantity of equipment, including rented and owned

A: Five 6-yard dump trucks (‘99 & 2000 models)

One 14-yard dump truck (‘93 model Mack)

One tractor haul truck (‘96 model Freightliner)

One 18-yard belly dump trailer, one Interstate flat haul trailer (for hauling equipment)

Three 1,500-gallon water trucks (one ‘80 & two ‘86 models)

Two motorgraders (‘87 John Deere & ‘02 Catapiller)

One track loader

One wheel loader

One skid steer

One flatbed truck (bridge) (‘82 International)

One asphalt distributor truck (‘96 International)

One Ferguson pneumatic roller

One Pad Foot Compactor

Two Durapatcher pot-hole machines

Two tractors and bush hogs (mowing right of way)

One tractor and boom-ax mower (tree trimming)

One chip-spreader (chip sealing roads)

One 2005 CMI re-claimer/stabilizer (rebuilding/cement stabilizing)

One double drum vibratory roller

One Waldon sweeper broom

One blizzard chipper

One excavator (Gradall)

A number of misc. trailers for various needs

One ‘96 Chevrolet 1/2 ton

Two Ford F150 (‘99 & ‘02 models)

Three Ford F250 work and fuel trucks (‘96, ‘97 & 2000 models)

One Ford F350 service truck

number and type of miles in precinct, i.e., unpaved, paved, asphalt, concrete, etc.

A: According to the former county planner, our precinct has 275 miles of roadway. However, according to our current estimates, we have 293.05 miles of roadway, of which 12.3 miles are dirt roads, 70.8 miles are gravel, 203.5 miles are paved and 6.45 miles are concrete. In order to continue our proactive stance on road maintenance, we are currently gathering information via GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to give us a better look and understanding of all our roadways. With GPS and GIS (Geographic Information System) we are marking our bridges, culverts and roadways to keep a complete and accurate count of each. We currently have 64 bridges and five low water crossings and have entered into a Federal Bridge Replacement Program to replace five bridges with concrete structures that is a 90-10 share with TXDOT, we pay only 10 percent.

annual budget for roads and bridges

A: (Complete, multi-page Pct. 3 budget provided to WDL in an Excel spreadsheet). As you may notice our budget has gone down the last couple of years but material cost and fuel have increased in some cases up to 65 percent and with the growth and increase traffic this is unacceptable.

Q: Please discuss the effect the inclement weather this year has had on your roads.

A: I will never turn down rain but 46-inches in four months is a lot and it does take its toll. Following a drought makes it a little worse because of how the road base soaked in the water from the ditches and made soft road surfaces. A soft road surface leads to more potholes, more road heaving and the failing of the covering material. We knew there were ditch problems before but because of the silting the problems are worse. We think more than anything it has brought to light the importance of maintenance and operations with capitol improvements.

As mentioned previously, our overall estimate of damages from the rains is between $500,000 and $600,000. That’s a huge figure when you consider all the roads we must keep maintained on a yearly basis. That, along with the increase of high-priority needs are the primary reasons our schedule to build or rebuild roads in the precinct has dropped this year from nearly 24 miles of road to only six.

Q: Please provide any other comment you would like to make relating to roads and bridges.

A: The way Ellis County has done roads in the past will not work now or in the future. Being reactive will remain part of the job but it cannot be our major way of operation. The more proactive steps we take today will lead to less reactive steps in the future. We must be more proactive in all that we do. To be proactive, money must be spent now. But if done correctly, money will be saved in the future.

We cannot simply build a cheap road today as an easy fix. If we do, we’ll simply repeat the same problems we have now and need to rebuild those roads in three to five years.

I am not advocating higher taxes but advocating that we prioritize how tax money is spent, plan ahead and set policies in place to ensure all roads and bridges in the county are built to a higher standard. We would also ask that the residents that live on county roads remember that you are in the country and more than likely that road was gravel when you moved on to it or that chip sealed road had pot holes in it when you bought your land. This is not Dallas or Plano and I would guess that is why you moved to Ellis County to enjoy the country and Ellis County. We will do our best to keep you traveling safe but the driving is up to you.

Ron Brown, Pct. 4 Commissioner

Q: Please describe how work is planned and scheduled for your precinct’s road crews. Discuss proactive and reactive situations, i.e., ongoing maintenance plans and how emergency type situations (such as bad weather) are incorporated into the work flow.

A: Major projects are scheduled one year in advance. Problems called in by citizens on a day to day basis are handled as soon as a crew is available. Weather is a factor in our work schedule and we adjust accordingly. Our recent bout with rains put us three weeks behind; however, my crew has worked diligently to make up for the lost time and we are caught up at this point in time.

Q: Please discuss how your precinct prioritizes its work load for road maintenance and how flexible this process is, i.e., complaint driven, schedule driven, crew/material availability?

A: Work load for road maintenance is prioritized by 1). schedule, 2). by complaints and 3). by crew/material availability.

Q: Please discuss the staffing and supervision of your precinct relating to road maintenance, as well as any accountability measures — such as daily work logs you might have in place.

A: My foreman, Eric Thompson, divides our men into 3-4 crews and schedules tasks one week in advance. Within each crew is a crew chief who is usually the equipment operator. The men are at work at 7 a.m. to get their assignments. Materials need for scheduled projects is determined at the beginning of our scheduling process. Daily logs are completed by each crew which includes the amount of materials used that day. All equipment operators keep daily logs referring to the equipment used.

Q: Please provide the following for a “by the numbers” information about your precinct:

staffing numbers, break out into crew, supervisors, etc.

A: Staff: One commissioner, one secretary, one foreman, one mechanic, 12 workers

types and quantity of equipment, including rented and owned

A: Equipment:

Pick-up Trucks - 8

Tandem Axle Dump Trucks - 2

Single Axle Dump Trucks - 4

Utility Truck - 1

Haul Truck - 2

Bridge Truck - 1

Distributor Truck - 1

Water Trucks - 2

Pothole Trucks -

Tractor trailers - 2

Excavator - 1

Chip Spreader - 1

Steel Wheel Roller - 1

Smooth Drum Vibrator - 1

Lowboy Trailer - 1

NH Brush Tractors - 2

Bush Hog - 1

Bomag Recycler - 1

Rhino Cutter - 1

Mobark Chipper - 1

Gooseneck Trailer - 1

CAT Loader - 1

Welder and Trailer - 1

Broce Broom - 1

Hotsy Washer -

CAT Grader - 1

Rubber Roller Compactor - 1

Hyster Roller - 1

number and type of miles in precinct, i.e., unpaved, paved, asphalt, concrete, etc.

A: The number of miles in Pct. 4 exceeds 195 miles. The majority of roads are chip and seal. Other roads are concrete, gravel and asphalt.

annual budget for roads and bridges

The budget for 2006-2007 Road and Bridge Pct. 4 is $876,913. For farm to market roads the budget is $609,948. We are entitled to carry over a fund balance each year. Over several years of planning, the fund balance for Pct. 4 has accumulated to $685,456. I am using these funds for major projects such as widening Plainview, widening two bridges on Plainview, improvement of a portion of Mt. Zion and Suddith and establishing an emergency fund for unanticipated problems.

Q: Please discuss the effect the inclement weather this year has had on your roads. Also, please provide any other comment you would like to make relating to roads and bridges.

A: I am extremely proud of our crew. We have reconstructed and re-sealed more than 35 miles of road last year. This was accomplished with less men and on one of the smaller commissioner budgets in the county.