Wednesday, April 25, 2012

DC Engineer Jim Surber's Thoughts on the Planned 242 Changes

Yesterday, we posted details on the planned project to close a section of 242 near the Darke County Airport in order to make the airport more functional and to utilize more of the runway that’s already there, all with information from Commissioner Mike Stegall. I also asked Darke County Engineer Jim Surber to provide his thoughts on the project and he very graciously provided the information below:

Jim was nice enough to recap events leading up to this proposal, saying that 5 years ago there was a plan proposed to have ODOT take over Chase Road and make it the new route for State Route 242. This would have seen the closure of the same north/south section of what is currently 242, but rather than ODOT abandoning the entire stretch of 242, they would adopt the stretch of Chase Road that connects 242 to 121, if the Commissioners improved and widened the mile-long road to meet state standards. Jim believed this to be a very good plan and did not know why it was abandoned, but it clearly did not come to fruition.

Map Provided for Reference
The current proposal was brought up by the Commissioners to ODOT to abandon 242 all together (a stretch of 3.67 miles). An agreement was drawn up between ODOT, the Commissioners and the Trustees of both Townships that would eventually see the portion of State Route 242 from USR 127 to Chase Road become a County road (2.16 miles). Chase Road was not addressed in the agreement. Of the remaining 1.51 miles of SR 242, 1.0 miles would become the responsibility of Richland Township and 0.51 miles would become the responsibility of Wayne Township. Very recently, the agreement was modified, eliminating the Township Trustees, but with no stated changes in the ultimate assignment of the portions of SR 242.

With this plan, as noted in the previous post, the main concern is the impact to the increase in traffic to Chase Road, with Jim stating that it would be a “grave vehicular hazard” and that he “advised the Commissioners that no part of former SR 242 be closed until Chase Road is widened and improved to accept the traffic from a widened and improved former SR 242.” The funding mechanism for this portion is still being determined, as Jim has stated that the $800k payment, by the agreement, is only paid for making modifications to State Route 242, and not for Chase or any other road.

An additional concern noted by Mr. Surber was in the future funding for that stretch of roadway. Currently, the county receives, on average, $10,000 per mile of roadway (approximately $5,000,000 for 519 miles). For the stretch to be abandoned, the state has stated that it will only provide $970 per mile per year, either to the county or the township. This means that this stretch will see a deficit of over $9,000 per year per mile of road, for a total of a little over $30,000 per year. Jim characterized this as an “unfunded mandate,” either at the county or township level in that responsibility for upkeep would be given to either entity without appropriate funds to do so. The Commissioners appropriate the Engineer's budget, but do not fund it. They neither appropriate nor fund the budgets of the Township Trustees, so, in Jim’s opinion, are essentially asking them to dilute their total road maintenance budgets to accommodate maintaining this new stretch of roadway.

Aside from providing the above mentioned guidance on the project, Jim also said that he is not actively working on the project, that the planning decisions at this point are only being made by the commissioners and that he has not been invited to any meetings or discussions on the topic in the last few months.

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