Feb 29, 2024

🎙 Ellis County searching for ways to improve rural road maintenance

Posted Feb 29, 2024 11:01 AM

Hays Post

Rain and snow last month, after weeks of dry conditions, had a serious effect on Ellis County roads, and now officials are looking into ways to improve the maintenance process going forward.

Following the winter storm early in January, Ellis County officials say they received several phone calls concerning the condition of roads in the county's rural area and, even more so, the residential subdivisions outside the city of Hays.

Commissioner Nathan Leiker said the subdivisions have sprung up since zoning regulations were altered in the mid-2000’s and updated in 2021.

The regulations aimed to conserve agricultural land in the county. However, Leiker said subdivisions created more roads maintained by county public works crews, and the commission has not increased the department’s budget.

“While we've changed the way the county has looked at it and promoted growth in these areas,” Leiker said. “We haven't promoted growth on our public works to handle the influx of residents in these small areas.”

Leiker and the rest of the county commission tasked Public Works Director Brendan Mackay to come up with ideas for ways to improve conditions.

Mackay said during the storm, the county paid 450 hours of overtime, and that did not include the time he spent working during those days.

“We have almost 1,400 miles of roadway in this county, and the guys are traveling seven miles an hour. We can't be everywhere,” Mackay said. “Expectations exceeded what the county has funded for years past and what we can do realistically with employees and equipment level.”

Mackey said they have seen staff and equipment shrink due to budget cuts.

“You always want to do more with less, but we're at the point where there's no more we can do with the less that we have,” Mackey said. “We have to expand if we want to improve our end product basically and improve our services because we're stretched the limit right now.”

Leiker said he did not want to be critical of the past commissions who have cut funding for public works and said in recent years, they started to put money aside for bridge replacements and have started a fund to help with road maintenance.

Mackey said over the last three-plus decades, they have lost four graders to maintain the roads, all while adding additional roads that need to be maintained because of the subdivisions.

The commission was presented information on 14 subdivisions along with the unincorporated community of Munjor, where the public works department is tasked with road maintenance.

Mackey said while the subdivisions have not had a dramatic increase in the number of miles maintained by crews, it does make it more difficult because roads in the subdivisions have to be maintained differently.

“If there's one of those developments, that's four miles. It'll take us four hours easily to do those four miles because of the amount of time you have to spend to reopen things and clear off in front of entrances and driveways,” Mackey said. “So it may be only 20 miles that we maintain out of all those developments, but it's like maintaining over 100 miles of county roadways with the time requirement to do it.”

Some subdivisions maintain their roads, and there is a possibility that future developments may also be required to do that.

But Mackey said part of the problem is that they currently maintain those roads as they were built and will need to be upgraded.

As part of the regulations, all roads built in rural Ellis County must be built to standards set by the public works department.

But Mackey said he thinks some roads are going to be improved, and that is going to take time and manpower.

He said some roads will need to be reworked with the materials there, while some will need additional materials brought in to fix the road.

Mackey will present the commission with his plans at the commission’s retreat and a future meeting in March.

He said he plans to give them options for the beginning of the process and then steps along the way.

“I don't want us to overshoot, and then we end up having to overcorrect,” he added, “and then we want to make it fair and equal for everyone.”

Among the ideas floated by Mackey and the commission was to hire another person to be in charge of the subdivision maintenance and add another piece of equipment responsible for those areas.