BY MELANIE BUCK –
The county road crews are continuing to complete scheduled improvements across the county. Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison reported that crews were working hard in both North and South County. Thousands of dollars and man hours have been allocated to make quality, long-term, sustaining road improvements for citizens and Ellison expressed his gratitude to everyone for their patience as they juggled heavy damage from multiple floods over the last two years.
In North Polk County, the roads, or portions of roads, that received new drainage pipe where needed, asphalt leveling, and a single seal of emulsified asphalt and class 1 crushed aggregate are: Polk 76E from the Ouachita River Bridge to Polk 676; Polk 74 from Polk 75 to Polk 184 and all of Polk 184 to Polk 70 (Posey Hollow); Polk 44 (Bethesda) from Polk 42 to State Highway 375E; and Polk 181 from State Highway 88E to Polk 74.
Road portions receiving all new drainage, elevations raised up to as much as 24 inches, widened, new road base, primer, and two layers of emulsified asphalt with class 1 crushed chips are: Polk 76E from Polk 676 to US 71N (north end); and Polk 44 from Polk 52 to Polk 56.
These roads qualified as State Aid projects. Judge Ellison explained that some projects are chosen based on State Aid qualifications. To be eligible, the road must meet certain criteria including:
• The road must be a through-road
• Both ends must connect to a state highway or, a state highway and another state aid road
•If the road has an existing hard surface, the road must be at least 18 feet wide to be eligible for re-surfacing
• If the road does not have an existing hardened surface, it must be 22 feet wide for improvements.
Polk County currently receives approximately $217,000 annually for state aid funds. For these State Aid projects, the Arkansas Highway Department of Transportation (AHDT) conducts the bid and award procedures for the contract work. Only AHDT approved contractors are allowed to bid and AHDT also engineers the project, sets the specifications, and monitors the contracted portion of the project. However, the Polk County Road Department performs all work except the resurfacing portion.
Naturally, some roads won’t qualify for state aid. In those instances, county money received from the 1-cent sales tax is used to fund the projects. In North County, Polk 44 (going east) from State Highway 375E to Polk 52, and Polk 53 from Highway 8E to the sewer plant, were roads that did not meet state criteria; therefore, county money was used. In total, the state and county shared the $537,360 expense for resurfacing. The separate contract (non-state aid) for hard surface went to Salt Creek Paving for $123,880. Polk County spent approximately $9,500 for drainage pipe. Approximately 11 miles of road were improved in this project.
Since Polk County now produces most of their own gravel and has been very focused on reconstructing roads in recent years, they’re efficiency has improved in all areas of the trade except the final hard surface. This allows the county to save money and also allows for larger projects.
South Polk County is also seeing much needed road improvements. About two years ago, Judge Ellison was able to apply for and give a live presentation that gained the county a Title 2 Project grant from the United States Forestry Service for the reconstruction of Polk 36. When the project is complete, the county will receive $104,943. Judge Ellison hopes to continue to apply for, and receive the grant. Located east of Hatfield, Polk 36, also called Goat Brown Springs, will receive around six miles of reconstructed road. This project saw existing pavement removed, the road widened, new drainage ditches built, new drainage pipes were installed, the road elevation was heightened, and new road base was applied. Judge Ellison expressed gratitude to the local landowners who graciously donated right-of-ways, and also to Rich Mountain Electric and Windstream who relocated their utilities for the project.
Polk 283, a portion of Polk 31, and all of Polk 91 had hard surfaces removed, new drainage pipes installed, and a new seven-inch layer of compacted road base applied. Polk 284, or Brewer Loop, will receive additional road base and be prepared for the final phase of hard surfacing. Polk 286 also received several new drainage pipes, drainage ditch work, and will receive some asphalt leveling in preparation for resurfacing. Costs associated with the South County project include approximately $415,000 for hard surfacing and $7500 for drainage pipes.
For both projects, Judge Ellison stated that “since fuel, equipment, payroll, and other overhead is figured into our yearly budget, and we are producing our own gravel now, the exact cost of the project cannot be easily given.”
Crews have already completed two other major projects earlier in the year. One resulted in over four miles of new surfaces on sections near Wickes, Grannis, and Cove. Another, located near Cossatot River High School, allowed for a safer entrance and exit between US 71 and the new high school.
Judge Ellison is very quick to brag on his crews, stating “Sometimes our county employees are not appreciated as much as they should be. The last few years we have experienced several natural disasters, yet, not only have they met that challenge, they have produced new quality improvements to our road and bridge system. Just because there are projects and flood repairs going on doesn’t mean regular maintenance gets to stop. They have managed to juggle all of that and keep our roads and bridges in an improved condition. They have exceeded my expectations and we couldn’t realistically ask anymore from them.”
Judge Ellison also requested for those citizens still waiting on road improvements, to be patient. There are 1300 miles of road in the county. Condition and the amount of traffic on a road makes a difference in which ones get fixed first. However, he states, “The folks that can wait another year or two will be better off. At that point, I can tear a road out and start over, and do it right.” He encourages citizens to get out and drive on the newly improved roads and know that eventually those waiting, will receive the same quality improvements.