A Lee County Public Works crew prepares a segment of Crotwell Road for paving Tuesday afternoon.
LEESBURG — “Aggressive” is an overused term when spoken by politicians. So when both Lee County Administrator Tony Massey and Lee Commission Chairman Ed Duffy first mentioned an “aggressive roads project” at a recent commission meeting, many in the community were skeptical.
That skepticism has turned to optimism for most, though, as the commission approved a construction contract for 1.8 miles of paving on Crotwell Road at its Oct. 11 work session, moving forward with the first target on its hit list.
Commissioners followed up that action by OK-ing preparation work by Public Works crews on Flowing Well Road, the next in line on the $1.82 million projects list.
“Some of these roads were on the SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) lists as far back as 10 years ago, but over the years, the money got redirected,” Redbone Commissioner Bill Williams, who was elected in 2007, said. “We haven’t been able to pull the trigger on moving forward with these road improvements until the SPLOST VI referendum passed in March.
“From that SPLOST we voted to include $1.1 million in advance funding for road repairs, which we were able to combine with SPLOST V funds to come up with enough money to start work. I think this is going to have a huge impact on the county.”
County officials expect to have the work on Crotwell done by the end of November and are shooting to wrap up Flowing Well in April 2012. By the end of next summer, the goal is to have completed resurfacing work on Donald, David, Thomas, Lane and Ragan roads, all of which have traditionally been among the county’s most notoriously hard-to-travel — and maintain — roads.
“All of these roads on our list were approved by county voters for SPLOST IV, V or VI,” Lee Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander said. “We attempted to get Community Development Block Grant funding for improvements on Donald, David, Thomas, Ragan and Lane, but we didn’t meet qualifications.
“So it took a combination of things falling into place for us to come up with the funding for this project.”
Part of that process involved Alexander sitting down with Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk to see if his crew would be able to do some of the prep work that had traditionally been included on bid packages for road construction companies.
“Mike and I discussed at length the possibility of our folks doing some of this work without taking away from their regular duties,” Alexander said. “I wanted to make sure he felt comfortable that his folks could do the work, and he did.
“The one concession is we want to bring in a road supervisor to help oversee the work (done by Public Works crews), but the savings in construction costs will more than make up for that position. We anticipate saving from 30 to 40 percent of construction costs by having our personnel do prep work.”
Williams points out that the cost projections for work on Donald, David, Thomas, Ragan and Lane has been reduced from $1 million to $600,000, while Flowing Well’s estimate has been lowered from $600,000 to $275,000.
“What we plan to do during our pre-bid conferences is actually show the prospective bidders what we are doing,” Sistrunk said. “They’ll bid on the base work and the asphalt topping only, not on the preparation work. And, frankly, that’s where a lot of their cost was coming from.
“What we’re doing is using one of our crews to do the grading of the ditches, culvert installation, tree removal and the hauling of fill dirt. They’ll get the road ready to be paved. We still have all of the typical maintenance work covered by our staff, but we’re able to move this one crew because this is our slowest time of year.”
Roy Piercey, Eric Shamburger, Chad Hett, Donna Duckworth and Crawford West make up the Public Works crew that has taken on the initial prep work for the road projects. They were on Crotwell Tuesday morning, completing culvert work some two-thirds of the way down the length of the road.
“It will take us a little longer than it would a construction crew, but we feel we’ll be able to get these roads ready,” Piercey said. “We’re trying to utilize the base that’s already in place on some of the county’s roads and complete the basic work to prepare the roads for paving.”
Duffy points out that a number of citizens and agencies in the county had written letters requesting paving work on the various roads on their project list as part of the county’s attempt to obtain a CDBG grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A look at the county’s request package submitted to HUD in 2008 shows letters from a number of citizens as well as from Alexander, Fire Chief James Howell, then-Sheriff Harold Breeden, Leesburg Postmaster Thomas Clemons, EMS Director Bobby Watkins and School Superintendent Lawrence Walters requesting that work be done in the Lane Acres area that includes Lane, Ragan, Thomas, David and Donald roads.
“... Several times, the road has flooded at a low place. The water across the road is too deep to drive through. We are basically isolated at the end of the road until the water goes down,” Gene Fellows, a Donald Road resident, wrote.
“This is just the beginning of this aggressive road-paving plan,” Duffy said. “We plan to continue over the next several years. SPLOST VI has $10,738,000 for road projects, and after using the $1.1 million in advanced funding, there will still be $9,638,000 in SPLOST VI available for future road paving.”
The aggressive countywide approach is a stark contrast to Williams offering to “give up” some $800,000 allocated for funding Flowing Well improvements two years ago so that more pressing repair work could be completed on Old Smithville Road.
“That was a public safety issue,” Williams said. “There was a call to reallocate the funding, and while I didn’t have the authority to make a decision like that on my own, I feel that if I’d argued against it the commission would have gone along with me.
“I’d told the people in my district that we were going to make improvements on Flowing Well, but this was a safety issue and I did what I thought was best for the entire community.”
A number of citizens, many wary of becoming overly optimistic about the touted road improvements, appear now to have bought into the idea that “aggressive” in Lee County means just what it says.
“When we discussed working on these projects, I told Bob (Alexander) I was confident our folks could do the job,” Sistrunk said. “I still feel that way. Certainly, I didn’t want to put our guys in over their head, but I have no doubt they can get these small projects done at substantial savings to the taxpayers of the county.
“If there are problems, it will fall on me. But I’m very confident that we’re going to do a job that the people of the county will be proud of.”