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2015-07-16

Roads big topic at July 9 Commissioners Court

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Discussion about roads and infrastructure took up a lot of time at the June 9 session of the Bandera County Commissioners Court, with all commissioners present for the 10 am meeting.
County Road Superintendent John Andrade started off the conversation with his monthly report about the status of the roads and bridges in the county. The best news Andrade shared was that TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has re-instated the county's permits to take surface water from local sites to use for maintaining county roads. TCEQ had cancelled the county's permits at the onset of the drought, severely limiting the amount of road grading and maintenance the road and bridge department (R&B) crews could do. "We've been on hold for four years," Andrade said.
Andrade reported that two major road closures were the result of the Memorial Day weekend flooding - one on Backhaus Road in Pipe Creek and one at English Crossing. English Crossing was closed for a couple of weeks before debris could be removed, shoulder repairs could be done and water flow over the crossing decreased enough to allow for safe vehicle traffic.
The R&B department dealt with a number of low water crossing peel-ups, a lifting off of the roadbed due to water getting under the bed. That was the problem at Backhaus Road and also on a crossing on Bear Creek. The crews also repaired road shoulder damage and patched some potholes. "However, there are some areas where springs (under the roadways) are continuing to cause potholes," Andrade said.
The discussion on roads continued through two agenda items listed by rookie commissioner Jody Rutherford. Rutherford wanted to know why the R&B department doesn't do maintenance of roads and parking lots on county property. County Judge Richard Evans explained that maintenance of county property has to come out of the general fund budget, not out of R&B's budget. That budget is funded by road bonds approved by the voters with specified usage.
"It's doable," he said, to explain how R&B crews and equipment can be used. "We just have to have plans for it in the [general fund] budget process." If the county needs the street and parking lot in back of the courthouse paved, that project needs to be in the budget. The project is submitted to R&B for cost estimates and after completion, R&B is re-imbursed out of the general fund.
"You have to remember that the more R&B does [for county maintenance jobs] the less time [they have] for roads," added Evans.
Rutherford said he is concerned about the state of the county's roads and bridges. "We're losing our infrastructure," he said, "we're not putting enough money into our roads."
Commissioner Bobby Harris said he works closely with Andrade about road conditions in his precinct and said, "I encourage the other commissioners to do the same."
Commissioner Bob Grimes agreed, saying, "all of us have roads in our precincts scheduled for maintenance [as much as] five years out."
Commissioner Andy Wilkerson added, "Fuel costs have tripled and we haven't tripled our tax rate."
Andrade said it currently costs about $68 to $70 thousand to rehab a mile of county road. Adding to the enormous expense of road maintenance is the fact that "Many of our old roads were built on poor base," he explained. "We didn't put it there, but we have to deal with it."
On another item for discussion, Rutherford had questions about English Crossing and the Julian Creek low water crossing on Wharton's Dock Road. "Closing English Crossing causes an inconvenience for a lot of people," he said, referencing the recent long-term closing due to high water. Rutherford wondered if it would be possible to add box culverts to "get the river back under the road."
Andrade said TxDOT has estimated it would cost $3 million to raise the crossing and the road would be closed for six to 10 months. While acknowledging the inconvenience to residents, Evans noted that the crossing currently in place has withstood numerous floods.
Andrade added that he is working with TxDOT to place a 'road closed' sign at 16 and 1283 to advise drivers when English Crossing is closed.
The Julian Creek crossing allegedly runs over a dam, Evans explained, and to fix the problem would probably result in litigation. Commissioner Andy Wilkerson said he also gets a lot of complaints about the road that crosses the dam at Twin Lakes on Highway 173 North. "We [the county] don't maintain any roads over dams," Evans said.
Rutherford said he wanted to make it clear that he was just trying to clarify some issues and wasn't criticizing Andrade or the R&B crews. "They work hard," he said.