Big Butler County road projects ahead of schedule as roads clear for coronavirus shutdown

Butler County has moved quicker on multiple major road projects because of much lighter traffic during precautions over the coronavirus.

“If there’s a silver lining in this it’s the lack of traffic has enabled us to speed up construction of our projects,” said Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens. “But that’s probably as far as it goes. Revenues are going to be down, processes are down, just dealing with working situations is difficult, masks and temperatures and all the other things.

Wilkens announced this week the unique $20 million diverging diamond interchange project on the Union Centre Boulevard overpass at Interstate 75 in West Chester Twp. could be finished several weeks ahead of schedule because the engineer is combining the next two phases of work. He is warning drivers there could be minor delays.

“We want to take advantage of the 30 to 60 percent reduction in traffic to minimize the inconvenience to the public,” Wilkens said. “Performing this work now could result in the completion of the DDI before traffic increases later in the summer.”

RELATED: Major Butler County road projects happening amid coronavirus. So far.

The plan is to close the bridge for four or five days — drivers can still exit and enter the interchange they just won’t be able to cross bridge — at the end of the project. The original completion estimate was July 31 but with the accelerated schedule the interchange could be open by July 4th.

Likewise work on phase two of the $3 million Tylersville Road widening project has switched from a night-only project — due to the estimated 50,000 cars that pass through daily — to night and day construction, according to Wilkens.

He hopes that project can be completed ahead of schedule this summer.

“We’ll see how traffic stays down, we’ll see what happens, ” he said. “We’re running a night crew and a day crew so that should expedite it some.”

The project entails adding a westbound lane on the north side of the road from the interstate to Cox Road. To make that happen, access driveways to the rear of the eateries near Home Depot must be moved. There will now be two access roads to the rear service road, the current one at Dudley Drive and a new one that will run through the old Sunoco gas station site.

The project has been delayed twice, first because gathering right-of-way from businesses was challenging and last year because bids came in $1 million over estimates.

With schools still out of session two projects slated to begin after Memorial Day are underway in the vicinity of Lakota West High School. The drainage project on Beckett Road between Beckett Ridge and Union Centre boulevards already started and the commissioners approved a $1.4 million contract for a new roundabout at the Lesourdesville West Chester Road and Beckett Ridge Boulevard on Monday.

The roundabout construction means the intersection will be shut down for the duration of the work. There were concerns there would be traffic nightmares because of work that was going at Tylersville Road and Chantilly Drive. Wilkens said the Tylersville Road work was complete before the Beckett was closed.

Almost $7.2 million worth of resurfacing work is also starting, it is largely fueled by gas taxes in most communities. Wilkens said county engineers across the state are estimating a 35 percent drop in fuel tax revenues. Last year the legislature authorized communities to impose an additional $5 vehicle registration fee. Hamilton was the only jurisdiction to impose the added fee but two other communities have also been pondering the new money. Liberty Twp. trustees have tabled that idea for now.

MORE: Butler County communities can charge $5 more for vehicle licenses. Why aren’t they?

“We are not going to be implementing the $5 fee at this time because we understand people are stretched financially right now,” Trustee Christine Matacic said. “And we want to take our time to make sure that what we’re doing is going to be a long-term impact to the positive for our residents.”

The township has reserves if needed to pay this year’s $928,578 resurfacing contract with Wilkens.

The Ross Twp. trustees will hold the first of two public hearings on the measure next Thursday. Trustee Tom Willsey said he understands the timing is bad, but the township only has until July to approve a resolution to get funds that will start flowing next year.

Willsey said the township has the $277,006 it committed to resurface streets this year but with gas taxes plummeting he doesn’t know how they will fund roads in the future.

“So what’s the second half of the budget going to look like when the gasoline tax numbers come in, that’s one of the reasons we want to go forward with the $5. We have no idea where we’re going to be budget-wise in our road fund,” Willsey said and later added the modest fee was a better option than a tax levy. “Property tax isn’t the way to do this, to me the $5 license fee is a more fair tax because you’re taxing the people that actually use the roads and not the people that live along the side of them.”

Using economies of scale Wilkens bids asphalt and chip seal resurfacing contracts for the townships who pay the bills. This year Fairfield, Liberty, Hanover, Madison, Milford, Oxford, Ross and West Chester townships have contracts and Wilkens said all of them are going ahead with the work, despite trying financial times.

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