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Major Butler County transportation projects to total $18.5M in 2020

Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens plans $18 million worth of roadwork this year, including finally finishing the Tylersville Road widening where 50,000 drives travel daily.
Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens plans $18 million worth of roadwork this year, including finally finishing the Tylersville Road widening where 50,000 drives travel daily.

The Butler County Engineer’s Office is planning $18.5 million worth of work this year, including bridge replacements, 53 miles of road resurfacing and projects expected to ease congestion.

County Engineer Greg Wilkens met with the commissioners Monday to preview what crews will be doing this construction season to better the county’s transportation system. The projects total about $20 million below the 2019 capital plan, but Wilkens noted the Union Centre Boulevard interchange was in the program last year.

“We range anywhere, and we vary a lot, from $15 to $25 million typically,” Wilkens told the Journal-News.

RELATED: Major Butler County traffic projects that will affect commutes this year and in the future

Only $6.6 million will be paid with local money, while the rest is coming from state and federal grants.

The largest construction zone by far has been the new $20 million diverging diamond interchange installation at Union Centre Boulevard in West Chester Twp. Wilkens said the work is about 60 percent complete and should finish by the end of July. The entire project is funded through a township Tax Increment Financing district, a financing tool.

Drivers have had full access to the interchange throughout construction but there is a brief four-day closure scheduled for the end of the project this summer, when work on the bridge deck will be done. Drivers will still be able get on and off I-75 during the closure, they just won’t be able to cross over the interstate via the bridge.

There are three road widening projects totaling $9 million, but $5.5 million of that was funded in 2019 for the Liberty Fairfield Road project. The roadway traverses both Fairfield and Liberty townships and work is about 64 percent complete. Federal money paid for the bulk of the project. Fairfield Twp. TIF money is paying for the widening project at Gilmore Road.

The biggest project is one designed to make Tylersville Road at the Interstate 75 interchange in West Chester Twp. safer and less congested for the 50,000 drivers who travel it daily. Construction is slated to start in the spring.

Given all the drivers and businesses in the area, construction of the $3 million project will be done at night, likely from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and should be completed this summer.

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.

“The right-of-way is a big contingent in making this happen,” Wilkens told the commissioners. “More costly than the project itself or equally as costly, with the businesses out there. Last year we had to purchase the Sunoco property out there and now we’re in negotiations with Wendy’s.”

Wilkens’ office spent almost $2.6 million acquiring the land necessary to complete Phase Two and initial construction estimates were $2 million. He said work can start on the project even while negotiations with Wendy’s are ongoing, because a deposit was paid to the restaurant.

Bottleneck-busting projects are important but Wilkens said a key to maintaining the entire system is resurfacing. The estimated $1.5 to $1.6 million in additional county gas tax money approved by the state last year gave this program a boost.

Wilkens’ office will spend about $7.6 million resurfacing 53 miles this year, $3.2 million is for county-owned roads and the rest in the townships. He said five years ago the county was only spending about $1.5 million paving its roads. That meant most roads could only be resurfaced every 28 years. Optimal is 17 to 18 years and Wilkens said they are getting closer to that goal.

“The thing that happens with road deterioration is they’re okay, they’re okay, they’re okay and then they hit a point of failure and it drops considerably,” Wilkens said. “You want to catch them before they get there because when you fall over that peak substantially, you’re just rebuilding the road and you don’t want to be there. That’s why the maintenance is ongoing and critical as we look to the future.”

Looking to the future, Commissioner T.C. Rogers noted that an aging workforce is impacting prices.

“The operators of machines are pretty much in their 60s and so that’s going to be a problem,” Rogers said. “We need operators.”

Wilkens agreed the construction industry as a whole has a serious labor problem. That is part of the reason he rejects the high bids for the Tylersville Road project last year.

“That is a continuing problem that the construction industry is suffering from is lack of personnel to fill these positions,” Wilkens said, adding overtime then boosts the costs.