BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials say the pavement assessment program the county began using in 2017 has helped them make measurable progress toward better county roads.
County Judge Barry Moehring signed a contract in early 2017 with GreenbergFarrow Architecture to do a video survey of 800 miles of paved roads. GreenbergFarrow has its headquarters in Atlanta and has a Bentonville office. The initial contract was for $65,000. The company provided a detailed report, including identifying problem areas using geographic information system satellite mapping data, in April 2017.
The county revised its 2017 road plan and developed its 2018 plan and the 2019 road plan based on the information from the assessment. The roads were designated by paving condition in color-coded categories ranging from dark green, meaning the pavement is in excellent condition, to red, meaning the pavement was considered "lost" and in need of complete rebuilding.
According to the initial assessment, the 800 miles of paved roads were ranked by the condition of the paving with 3 percent being excellent; 54 percent being good; 33 percent being fair; 7 percent being critical; and 3 percent being lost. With the tentative 2019 plan having been laid out, the county projects those number will change to 15 percent of the pavement excellent; 54 percent being good; 24 percent being fair; 5 percent being critical; and 2 percent being lost.
Jay Frasier, public services administrator and head of the Road Department, said paving priorities were set using the new information but pavement condition wasn't the only factor considered.
"There are traffic counts we have to look at," Frasier said. "The number of emergency vehicles and the number of school buses that use a road are important. The number of residents who live on a road is looked at. Obviously the higher numbers get more attention than a low-traffic road."
Moehring said the county also considered the relative cost of each potential repair project. He said it's sometimes better to do work on roads in relatively good condition than roads considered critical (orange) or lost (red).
"It costs a lot more, once a road has gone to orange or red, to bring it back," Moehring said. "It's more cost-effective to keep green roads from going to yellow, orange or red. As we move forward, we think we'll have more opportunities to get a yellow road and bring it back up to green."
Moehring became interested in having a detailed survey and assessment of roads done after learning of the program from other elected officials.
Bella Vista had its 550 miles of city streets studied by the company in 2015 and Mayor Peter Christie said the results were immediately useful. The ratings showed officials which roads need the most immediate attention, since repair costs escalate as the condition of roads deteriorates, Christie said. The city also approved a 1-mill tax increase in 2015. The millage increase provided about $450,000 annually for street work.
The city will likely continue using the pavement assessment program, Christie said. A second assessment was done in 2017 and the city has seen the improvements made since the program was adopted. Christie said the city is considering a bond issue for municipal projects which will include some street work.
"We've got most of the 'red' under control," Christie said. "Our 'green' roads have not slipped as much as they might. I think we can thank the lack of harsh winter weather the last couple of years for at least part of that. But we still have to make sure we stay on top of it."
Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6 and chairman of the county's Transportation Committee, said he is both pleased and surprised at the work done since the pavement assessment program began. Adams said he also thinks the county is doing better work by focusing less on the number of miles of county roads being paved and more on the maintenance and improvement of roads as needed.
"I actually think it's much better than what we were doing in the past," Adams said. "Instead of patching the same roads every two or three years we're looking at work that should last seven, eight, or nine years before we have to go back. I expect them to get to a point, two or three years down the road, when we've got these paved roads up to snuff and we can focus on new construction."