Butler County engineer planning most expensive construction season ever: What’s on the agenda

The Butler County Engineer’s Office road work plan for this year totals $43 million, the largest it has undertaken in Engineer Greg Wilkens’ 20-year career with the county.

Wilkens made his annual presentation to the county commissioners Monday and outlined the interchange, intersection, bridge and other improvement projects he’ll be directing this year.

“This is the largest capital improvement year that I’ve had in my history as county engineer and I think in the history of the office,” Wilkens said. “We’ve got over $43 million worth of projects which is huge.”

The biggest chunk of money is $24.3 million to fix the sometimes tricky Liberty Way interchange at Ohio 129 and Interstate 75. Local tax increment financing (TIF) money will cover around $11.6 million, the federal government is providing an equal match, plus $1.1 million is coming from the state.

Wilkens said part of the project involves extending Ohio 129 to a new Cox Road roundabout and modifying the I-75 ramps, so there won’t be crisscrossing traffic. The two-year construction project was budgeted at $23 million but Wilkens told the Journal-News the state wanted him to fold an I-75 ramp paving project into his job. Bids on the project are due March 30.

Repaving is another big ticket item and Wilkens plans to spend $7 million fixing 16.96 miles worth of county-owned roads, including Tylersville Road between Cox and Butler Warren roads and just over 28 miles within various townships. To save money Wilkens handles bidding and oversees paving projects for the townships, but those jurisdictions pay their own bills.

Wilkens said he increased the amount of spending from $3 million to $3.2 million for the county-owned roads this year.

“That drives us down to about what we talked about, a 17-year cycle, that we would be resurfacing every road in 17 years, if we stay on that pace,” Wilkens said. “That we feel is going to keep our roads in pretty decent shape. We’d like to get that lower, but we need to be putting out this type money every year.”

Also this year four intersections will be improved with roundabouts at a total cost of $6.5 million, however outside grants from the state and federal governments are covering $5.97 million. The largest project is on the outskirts of Trenton at Wayne Madison and Trenton roads.

In Liberty Twp. ,where Wilkens said there has been an 11% traffic increase on LeSourdsville West Chester Road — the annual norm is 3% — a roundabout will be installed on the south leg at Millikin Road. There are two projects on Butler Warren Road in West Chester Twp. at Barret Road and another at West Chester Road.

The rest of the projects, there are a total of 45 plus paving, are to fix bridges, culverts, drainage issues and a sidewalk project in Ross Twp.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter inquired about a recent report that gave Ohio a “D” grade for the condition of its roads. Wilkens said “funding has taken a beating and prices are going up so it’s not a good combination.”

“It means what it says, I’d like to think we’re doing a little better than that for sure,” Wilkens said. “But I think overall infrastructure is in need of repair and the dollars aren’t there to repair it.”

Wilkens has been very successful at getting outside grants and funding, of the $43 million total only $5 million is coming from county coffers, the rest is from the federal and state governments, townships and the TIF.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers, who is also past president of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) board, the agency that awards federal funding locally, told the Journal-News Wilkens and his staff are very adept at maximizing tax dollars.

“I found as president of OKI that there’s funding out there and sometimes different jurisdictions aren’t able to hold up their share,” Rogers said. “So the funds are able to be spent somewhere else, he normally has projects ready to go and has taken advantage of the situation.”

There is apparently a large pot of money built into the latest federal stimulus package and Commissioner Don Dixon asked what the chances are the county could get a “big hunk of that” if the measure eventually passes.

“It’s going to run on a project-by-project basis and you’re going to compete for those funds,” Wilkens said. “We don’t think it’s just going to roll out and everybody gets some share.”

Just like Rogers’ estimation of the engineer’s office, Dixon told Wilkens “you always get us more than our share, you’ve got a pretty good track record of getting that done.”

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