As construction season returns with warmer weather, Highland County Engineer Chris Fauber spoke with The Times-Gazette about upcoming construction projects Monday and how COVID-19 has affected ongoing projects.
Some projects, including Highland County’s striping and guardrail projects, were delayed as non-local contractors dealt with COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but Fauber indicated COVID-19 could have more long-term effects on the county engineer’s office.
A large portion of county engineers’ funding comes from license plate fees and gasoline taxes, which are divided between county engineers’ offices throughout the state and used to maintain roadways. Ohio’s stay-at-home order affected BMVs and regular travel, which will, in turn, affect county engineers’ budgets. However, it takes about three months for money collected from gasoline taxes to reach county engineers, so Fauber doesn’t yet know how his office’s budget will be affected. Tax funds from March will be dispersed later this month.
“We were fortunate last year that the gas tax passed, and they estimated about a $1.5 million increase for all the county budgets. I ended up only budgeting about half of that in our anticipated revenue, so we should still be fine, but we won’t really have a full year to estimate for next year because we won’t know how COVID really affected the revenue,” Fauber said. “I’ve heard numbers all across the board. Some of the traffic numbers were showing as much as a 50 percent reduction of travel on the interstates, so that really cuts into the revenue. I’m anticipating April and May being the worst months of travel, so we’ll see how that hurts us.”
The amount of rainfall the county received this spring also delayed some construction projects as crews combat plant growth.
“It was just a weird winter and spring for us for sure,” Fauber said. “There wasn’t a lot of freezing and thawing, but the extra moisture creates extra cracking. If you don’t deal with one thing, you deal with another.”
Fauber has been the Highland County engineer since May 2019, but he began working at the county engineer’s office about 20 years ago, when he worked seasonally after high school and during college.
“I’ve gotten to do it all in a way,” Fauber said. “I’m from here, and I like doing jobs where I can see the benefit in my own community. I’ve had opportunities to work in cities, but there’s nothing like working in your own community and doing projects that help people you know.
“The only drawback is wishing you had more money to do more. There’s plenty of work to do, and it’s kind of a balancing act to try to do what needs to be done and to plan for future projects.”
With 392 miles of road, more than 280 bridges, and over 2,100 culverts in Highland County’s system, Fauber said he’s grateful to have the team he does.
“I’ve been so impressed in my first year here by all the guys jumping in and doing whatever. They work hard,” Fauber said. “We’re kind of all over the board, from paving to putting in pipes to cutting trees to mowing to plow trucks. They’re so talented in multiple different things, so they can just jump in and do it. That’s been the biggest thing — their willingness to do it all. A lot of it’s labor-intensive, and they’re not afraid to jump in and do it. We have nice equipment, and we do as much as we can with that, but there’s just so much of it that you have to get out and use a shovel or rake or chainsaw, and they’re not afraid to do it.”
For his team’s safety, Fauber asks that community members slow down when they see road work signs.
“People don’t like to slow down at times, but to maintain our system, we need time to fix it. We just ask for patience during our construction season,” Fauber said. “We try to warn people in advance as much as we can. We have to shut down the roads a lot, and it’s more for our safety. It’s safer to shut the roads down and do our work than maintaining traffic at times, and we apologize for that, but on the flip side, we’re about being safe and getting our job done, so these guys can go home too.”
Upcoming, ongoing projects:
Chip seal project — About 30 miles of road countywide will be chip-sealed. Fauber estimates work will begin in the next month.
Guardrail project — Due to start later in the fall, crews will update existing rail and bridge rail across the county.
Striping project — Crews will restripe the lines on around 100 miles of roadway throughout the county.
Culvert replacement project — Crews will replace three concrete box culverts throughout the county. Crews have already replaced a culvert on Stoney Point Road, outside Hillsboro, which Fauber estimated would reopen on Monday; crews will replace culverts on Carper Lane, near Rocky Fork Lake, and West Deadfall Road, near Belfast, in the near future. This project is classified as bridge replacement due to the culverts’ length.
Record digitization project — By the end of the year, Fauber also hopes to complete a project that will digitize the Highland County Map Office’s records, which go back to the ’70s. Once complete, community members will be able to access the records online. This project was also delayed due to COVID-19 and an increase in deed transfers and surveys during quarantine.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.