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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Ottawa County Engineer Dave Brunkhorst isn’t ready to claim victory over winter yet.

By the calendar, Ottawa County and the rest of the nation has surpassed what is considered to be the “dead of winter” or the coldest time of the year.

There’s been little measurable snowfall to date here either – a big difference from a year ago when the area was blanketed in snow and February went down in the record books – and there have been spans of temperatures in the 40s.

dougsBike2b
   Zoomin' along-Doug Grosjean, Pemberville, has found a way to save on fuel
   and auto repair costs with his lightening F-40, a recumbent, assemble-yourself
   bicycle, and Grosjean says he has hit a maximum speed of 35 MPH as he
   commutes to classes at Owens. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)

“Everybody says look at the money you’ve saved by not putting down salt and the drivers not working overtime,” Brunkhorst said. “But we’re getting into the time of year where we usually see ice and freezing rain. I have seen some March and April days get pretty nasty.”

Planning for spring road projects, however, is in full swing.

One such project Brunkhorst had in mind – outsourcing mowing service – was put off until 2013.

Brunkhorst, whose office maintains about 160 miles or county roads, discussed the idea in late fall several times with the Ottawa County Commissioners.

But it all came down to timing. Brunkhorst noted he needed more time to investigate the pros and cons as well as preparing bid specifications.

“Realistically, we mow about 130-140 (miles) of that,” Brunkhorst said.

The manpower and supplies put into that effort is also costly, he said, given the rising costs of gasoline and other supplies.

The resources may also be better spent elsewhere, Brunkhorst said. Up to five people on his garage staff of 13 can be dedicated to mowing services at a given time. Outsourcing the mowing would allow those workers to be redirected to operations such as shoulder work, road patching and culvert work.

This kind of streamlining falls in line with office directives to cut costs.

“It’s pieces, parts and make do with what you have,” Brunkhorst explained. “When you have a finite amount of money, you start looking for ways to get costs in line.”

He doesn’t see the financial situation improving any time soon.

Funds for road maintenance and projects come from three sources – state and federal gasoline taxes and license plate fees.

Federal officials haven’t decided yet whether to raise the gas taxes as Americans muddle through a steady rise in fuel prices. That’s not the case in Ohio. Gov. John Kasich said he staunchly opposes any gas tax increases. His reason: Ohio needs to stay competitive and one key component to doing so.

The governor’s stand doesn’t sit well with Brunkhorst - given the Ohio Department of Transportation’s  recent announcement that it’s running a $1.6 billion deficit for road projects and more cuts are on the way.

“As cars get more efficient, they’re using less gasoline. That’s less tax money. They used to say ‘doing more with less.’ Now it’s ‘doing less with nothing.’ ” Brunkhorst noted. “Nobody wants to pay more taxes. A gas tax is a user fee. Those doing the driving on the roads are the ones who need to pay.”

State and local municipalities have been able to keep Ohio’s roadways in decent shape given the money woes of the last three years driven by the recession.

“We have been fortunate in this county. My predecessors were astute enough to keep the roadways in good shape,” the engineer said.

Brunkhorst doesn’t want to see things deteriorate to a point that communities experience what Monroe County, Michigan did recently. The mild winter combined with recent rains made dozens of  gravel roads impassable. School districts refused to send buses down the roads for fear of getting of stuck. Some became impassable. Mail delivery even stopped.


Paperless maps
Ottawa County’s new road maps are going paperless.

The 2012 version of the Ottawa County map was created in house for the first time within the county engineer’s office.

“We’re not going to print them out,” the engineer said. “Printing them, handing them out, is not conducive to good finance. The demand has been less to nothing from years ago.”

Print maps are still available, however. The engineer’s office still has several thousand copies of the 2005-06 county maps available on the first floor of the county courthouse. They are what remain from about 10,000 copies printed then.

Brunkhorst credits the drop in demand to a mobile society’s reliance on electronics. Locals and travelers alike opt for grabbing directions on Google or Mapquest via the Internet or following directions offered by global positioning systems in their vehicles.

That trend, coupled with the commissioners request for offices to offer cost-cutting measures, prompted Brunkhorst’s decision, he said.

“We were looking at what we need to do now. But never say never,” Brunkhorst said, when asked if the print version might be resurrected in future years.

Brunkhorst said the maps have “all the bells and whistles.”

That includes compatibility with graphic information system data, which allows users to identify information about water and sewer lines, electrical and other utility lines, ditches, roadways, bridges and pipelines.

“American Idol” followers will also note a special designation on the map. The town of Elliston, home to Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox in season nine, is now on the map.

You can check out the county map by going to the engineer’s page on the county website www.co.ottawa.oh.us.

Trick or Treat

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