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Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

County expects millions in infrastructure funding

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Mercer County Engineer Jim Wiechart is gearing up for a big year of road and bridge projects to be paid in part with millions of dollars in state and federal funds his office secured.
"It's our biggest budgeted year that I've ever seen here and I'm sure probably ever because we're up around $20 million and I've never seen it to that level for just our budget," Wiechart said.
In comparison, the county's total appropriations for all accounts this year is $79.43 million.
"And most of that's related to state and federal funds that we were able to get," Wiechart said of his office's roughly $20 million budget.
Among the top projects slated for this year are improvements to a bridge on Palmer Road over the St. Marys River in Union Township and a bridge on Park Road over the Wabash River in Recovery Township.
These are the only two bridges in the county still considered fracture critical.
"(That's) a bridge that if you lose one of the two main load-bearing superstructure elements you can lose the whole bridge," he said. "To be in a situation where we no longer have any fracture critical (bridges) is a good place to be."
The Palmer Road bridge project is estimated at $1.7 million and will be completely covered with federal grant dollars, Wiechart said.
"We'll be tearing all the superstructure off because that's where the challenges or problems are," he said. "The abutments are in good shape so we'll just be widening those out and placing a new superstructure on that."
The Park Road bridge is a $1 million project.
"Similar deal. We're taking the whole superstructure off, removing it," he said. "This one we'll be widening the abutments out, placing a new superstructure and some related roadway approach work."
Also targeted for repair is a bridge on Johnston Road at the intersection of Coldwater Creek Road.
"It's at an intersection and that creates some challenges in the design but it's a $700,00 project that's 100% federally funded," Wiechart said.
Wiechart's office has sought to bring the county's bridges up to snuff over the last several years.
"They're not perfect. When you've got 370 bridges you're always going to have some bridges that are heading toward the end of their lifespan," he said. "But overall the condition of our bridges has improved dramatically."
Wiechart gave a breakdown of other significant projects to be undertaken this year.
"We do have a pavement widening Public Works grant," he said. "That's about $365,000."
Pavement will be widened on Depweg and Sebastian roads in Franklin Township.
A project will be undertaken on a 0.5 mile section of Hellwarth Road from State Route 29 to Mud Pike Road involving pavement and shoulder widening and resurfacing but no bridge work, Wiechart said.
Shinn Brothers Inc. of Celina was awarded a $446,000 contract for the project, which was financed through federal Highway Safety Improvement Program and state safety funds.
"(It's a) very high volume township road that we were able to get federal HSIP funds to widen and improve," Wiechart said last year. "There is a big need for the location, traffic volume and use of this road to improve it."
Another big road widening project estimated at about $1 million will cover sections of Philothea Road in Recovery Township, State Route 716-A in Franklin Township, Neptune Mendon Road in Union and Center townships and Chickasaw Road in Marion Township.
At least $500,000 of the project will be financed with an Ohio Public Works zero-interest loan and grant package, Wiechart said.
A portion of Watkins Road from Burkettsville-St. Henry Road to State Route 118 in Granville Township is targeted for improvement. Jutte Excavating of Fort Recovery was awarded a $1.57 million contract.
"We'll get about $440,000 in federal highway funds for that," Wiechart said.
The project will involve "steel sheet piling to eliminate the limited shoulder roadside hazard as well as pavement and shoulder widening plus roadway resurfacing."
It also will include two bridge replacements, Wiechart said.
"The existing bridge conditions are still serviceable for the current traffic but they need to be … replaced so load limits are not necessary moving forward," he explained.
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A two-mile section of Miller Road from State Route 118 to Fleetfoot Road is in line for improvements, including pavement widening and resurfacing, shoulder widening and the setting back of ditches.
No cost estimate was provided.
Wiechart's office also plans to touch up 50 miles of county roads and 50 miles of township roads in 2023 using both chip and seal and fog seal.
The department in recent years has intensified its chip-and-seal repair program to the highest level in decades due to the rising cost of asphalt and other materials and the deterioration of some county roadways.
With chip-and-seal, heated asphalt liquid is applied to the road surface and small rocks or chips are laid down. The process adds as much as five years to the life of a road and costs less than a quarter of the price of a full asphalt overlay.
Fog seal is a light application of asphalt emulsion applied to the surface of a pavement after chip-and-seal as a cost-effective protectant.
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