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DOT falling behind on maintenance work
Rather than resurface a worn road, the state Department of Transportation is opting to patch cracks here and there, trying to squeeze every penny out of its budget for road upkeep. This is an example of a temporary patch on a stretch of Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed


Listen as Todd McDuffie and Teri Pope of the Georgia Department of Transportation talk about maintenance work and funding issues.

Rain has been good for Lake Lanier, filling it up and more, but it hasn’t been so kind to the area’s state roads.

The cash-strapped Georgia Department of Transportation has cut back on "pavement preservation," meaning it hasn’t been able to buy sealant to fill road cracks.

"When all that water gets in that pavement, and now especially with wintertime (approaching), we have that freeze-thaw issue. That’s you start seeing (potholes starting to form),’" said Todd McDuffie, interim engineer for the Gainesville-based district.

"And it’s going to get worse."

DOT officials have long boasted of having some of the best-maintained roads in the country, but funding shortages — not helped by a lingering economic downturn — have turned some of Georgia’s fortunes.

"Every 10 years, we should have everything resurfaced," McDuffie said in an interview last week at DOT offices off Athens Highway. "But due to the funding issues, that hasn’t happened."

The state has about $1.1 billion in resurfacing projects identified in 2008-09 "that we have no funding for," McDuffie said.

"That’s not counting this year’s (identified projects)," he added. "There’s more coming. That’s why we need a funding source."

About $100 million of the $1.1 billion are projects in the 21-county District 1, said Teri Pope, District 1’s spokeswoman.

"Those projects are laying on the shelf," McDuffie said.

Stretching out the time frame on resurfacing will end up tarnishing Georgia’s reputation as a maintenance leader, Pope said.

"The longer these projects go, the more extensive work is going to be needed and the more expensive it’s going to cost," she added.

"And local (governments) are worse than we are. Cities and counties were on an every 15- to 20-year cycle to start with and a lot of their money came through us, and that money has been cut down dramatically as well over the last several years."

She was referring to the state’s Local Assistance Resurfacing Program.

"The longer we prolong resurfacing a road, the more preventive maintenance we have to do, referring to the crack sealing, the patching, things of that nature, which are cheaper to do but we don’t have the funds to do it," McDuffie said.

The situation "is just spiraling down to where (roads are) going to cost more to fix," he added. "A lot of the resurfacing packages we (submitted) in 2008, we’re having to go back and look at them. We may have had 1,500 tons of patching then; now we need 2,500 tons."

The state has gotten some relief from federal stimulus money this year.

"When (that) came along, it was easy to grab some of the resurfacing projects," McDuffie said.

"Because they were ‘shovel-ready,’ we could do them very quickly, get the money out and get people working," Pope said.

About $4.5 million in federal stimulus money is being or has been spent to resurface or do other work on three major roads in Hall County: Mount Vernon Road from Thompson Bridge Road to Dahlonega Highway, U.S. 129 from Gillsville Highway to Monroe Drive and Ga. 365 from Ga. 369/Jesse Jewell Parkway to Ga. 52/Lula Road.

Kem Smith, Hall County assistant public works director, said he believes the county is staying on top of road maintenance fairly well.

"I know people are going to say ‘That’s a joke,’ but we have patched numerous amounts of potholes," he said. "And we’re in the process of helping the school system out with some rough areas around the schools."

Funding has been kept up pretty well during the recession.

"The county has been good to us, and we’ve learned to work with the things we’ve had to work with," Smith said.

One thing is for sure: The work load hasn’t dropped.

"We’ve got jobs waiting to be done," he said.