FAYETTEVILLE — Washington County justices of the peace got a firsthand look at the operations of the county’s Road Department during a daylong road trip Wednesday around the county.
Ten of the 15 members of the Quorum Court began the day with a tour of the Road Department’s operations center, shop building and road yard before boarding a bus that took a loop around several road and bridge projects on the county’s west side. After a lunch at the Sheriff’s Office, the tour resumed in the afternoon with stops on the east side of the county.
“I see this as a learning experience for the JPs,” County Judge Patrick Deakins said before the tour began. “We want to be able to show them some of the successes we’ve had and some of the challenges we are facing. When we talk about these in meetings they can have a firsthand picture of what we’re talking about.”
Deakins said Washington County covers about 1,000 square miles and has about 944 miles of roads to maintain — 467 miles paved and 477 miles gravel, according to the Road Department. In addition to road maintenance, there are 160 state-regulated and -inspected bridges maintained by the county and about 300 “unregulated” bridges not subject to state inspection. The unregulated bridges are typically those with a span of less than 20 feet.
Evelyn Rios Stafford, justice of the peace for District 12, said she thought the tour was helpful.
“It’s an educational tour for the JPs,” she said. “I’ve never really seen the Road Department in action, never seen some of the equipment they use.”
According to information from the county, the Road Department has 89 employees and 120 pieces of equipment, including road graders, dump trucks, and other vehicles and equipment. The department has a $14 million budget, with about $6.9 million of that going to personnel costs.
The department plans to pave 75 miles of county roads in 2023, with 10 miles being asphalt and 65 miles being chip and seal paving.
Chip and seal paving is an application of asphalt followed with an aggregate cover. Aggregate can be sand, gravel or crushed stone, according to the ScienceDirect website.
Road Superintendent Jeff Crowder said asphalt paving has a life of 15 to 20 years. Chip and seal paving generally lasts three to five years.
Crowder told the justices of the peace the paving program is driven by current traffic and anticipated growth. He said the county considers other transportation projects, such as the state Department of Transportation’s plans to improve Arkansas 112, and expected commercial and residential growth.
Crowder said some of the paving projects are meant to connect already paved roads and provide alternative routes to motorists who now drive on gravel roads or major roads and highways.
“We have a limited budget and our money is better spent where the traffic is,” he said.
Robert Dennis, justice of the peace for District 10, said he didn’t necessarily agree with the argument traffic should determine the paving program. Dennis said some “cut-offs” that were being paved had just a handful of houses on them.
“I think the paving should go where the people are,” Dennis said.
Sean Simons, justice of the peace for District 3, said he thought the tour was beneficial and should be a regular occurrence for the justices of the peace.
“I think it’s great; it’s very educational,” Simons said. “I’m a visual person, so I like getting to see things. I also think that doing it together can help build a sense of camaraderie and cooperation among the JPs. This is something that might be done, at the very least, after every election cycle when we have new JPs coming in. The Road Department has a $14 million budget. We need to know what it’s going toward.”