Commissioners discuss paving vs. chip-and-seal for county roads

Updated: Apr 1

MOUND CITY –Linn County needs to pave over more gravel roads. That has been an argument County Commissioner Rick James has expressed many times.

However, after hearing from Linn County Asphalt Foreman Tod Moeller, James’ fellow commissioners had differing opinions about paving any additional roads in the county during the commission's weekly meeting on Monday, March 21.

While Moeller had gotten a figure from Bill Delich at Bettis Asphalt in Iola, he said the roads would have to be assessed on a mile-by-mile basis.

He said there are a lot of factors to consider. Some roads might take 4 inches of base or 6 inches to get up to the desired level, the rights-of-way have to be considered, and whether the road width is going to be wide enough for box bridges is also a factor.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the minimum a road could be is 24 feet wide, and many of the county’s roads fall short of that. A certain amount of easement is needed for the ditches on both sides of the road.

Moeller said that the price the county paid for putting down asphalt was always going to cost more than asphalt companies because the companies make their own asphalt. If the county purchased asphalt, it would cost more than $88 ton; that is the price that companies charge to lay it.

Moeller said that when he talked with Miami County Road and Bridge Assistant Director Jeff McGuire, McGuire told him that he strongly advised against chip-and-seal for roads because it did not hold up well to traffic.

For asphalt, Moeller reported that it would cost $213,000 for one mile of road with a 3-inch lift.

Commissioner Rick James said that Linn County would never ever put in another paved road at that price.

Moeller said that the county did not have enough money to properly maintain the paved roads they have now. For five miles of 1.5 inch overlay, it costs $89,000 per mile. He said that County Road 1077 from 1300 Road to 1700 Road was overlayed in 2019 and now is showing stress fatigue.

The cost for chip-and-seal, is about $17,000 to $18,000 per mile, said Moeller.

Moeller said he liked the idea of adding new roads to the county, but he did not see how the county can add new roads and maintain what they have.

James said that the county could not at that price. But chip and seal has got to be better than gravel, period.

James said he would rather see a chip-and-seal road rather than just gravel when the budget for gravel purchased by the county has gone from $100,000 year to $1 million.

Commissioner Danny McCullough said he thought if the county got the ditches figured out that it would save so much money on rock material.

Commissioner Chair Jim Johnson agreed with McCullough about getting the ditches cleaned.

Moeller told the commissioners that a lot of the problem was getting the water away from the side of the road by making sure that the water has somewhere to go.

James asked Moeller to see if he could find a good program on chip-and-seal. He also asked him to find out how much it costs to apply fresh gravel a mile of road.

In answer to a question from James, Moeller told them that it takes five people for patching a road and about 13 to chip and seal.

James said that when there were 10 to 12 houses on a section of road, he did not understand why they shouldn’t have chip and seal.

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