The Ector County Highways and Streets Department is gearing up to begin their proposed summer road maintenance project: a sealcoating of almost 25 miles of damaged roadways across the county.

Sealcoating is a method of applying a liquid coating mixture, a sealcoat, to pavement, strengthening the road structure. Ector County Highways and Streets Director Evans Kessey said the sealcoat would be composed of a mixture of a liquid asphalt material, along with an aggregate of crushed washed stone.

However, Kessey specified that they are doing a sealcoating based off of the specifications given by Ector County commissioners, and would rather it be hot mix asphalt, which he said would last longer than just a sealcoating.

“Typically, a sealcoat is about seven years,” Kessey said. “However, with our current increase of traffic and the loadings we have on our roadways, our roadways are not too equipped to maintain the oilfield loads.”

So while sealcoating may be cheaper in the short-term, it may not actually be cheaper in the long-term, as Kessey said they would have to keep going back every year to make more repairs to damaged roadways due to the oilfield traffic.

Kessey said it takes some time to work with commissioners to get them to understand how this change needs to be implemented. He said, to the best of his knowledge, sealcoating has been the practice for 30 years.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddy Shelton said he asked Kessey to put together a presentation for some alternatives to sealcoating, and that they should be presented at some point in the next couple of weeks.

“Midland is now working on their county roads using hot mix, because they want the long-term usage of the roadway,” Shelton said. “With the oil boom coming back, it is more imperative that we need to consider other ways of maintaining our roadway than always relying on the past requirement and past specifications.”

Ector County Judge Ron Eckert said he thinks these issues have been discussed amongst the commissioners in the past, but due to falling property values and the change in tax revenue, the county was hit with several revenue downturns.

“At times, our hands can be tied so far as the county road infrastructure,” Eckert said. “We’d like to do more than what we can.”

Commissioners raised similar concerns regarding the budget of the sealcoating project when it was brought forward to them by Kessey during their regular meeting Jan 22. Kessey estimated the project would cost around $986,748. Kessey said that of the $2.2 million his department was allotted for Fiscal Year 2018, he’s already had to use a quarter of that budget on road maintenance—things like fixing potholes, picking up trash and cleaning oil spills. So, Kessey himself said he is unsure if he will be able to see the project through.

“We try to do the best that we can, even though our means are limited,” Kessey said. “The best I can do is try to shift some of the money. Even when I overrun, I see what we can do. [The sealcoating project] is a proposal. That doesn’t mean we’ll be able to capture it all. We strive to do the best we can.”

Shelton added that the best way to get the additional money needed for the road maintenance would be the implementation of a sales tax in designated county assistance districts, but that very proposed tax was voted down by Ector County residents in the last election.

Of the almost 25 miles of sealcoating proposed, the most work to be done lies in Precinct 1, where they plan on sealcoating Third Street from Moss Avenue to Fortune 500 Avenue, Knox Avenue from Third Street to 57th Street, and West Dunn Street from FM 1936 to Trip Avenue, totaling around 9.16 miles. The next most amount of work lies in Precinct 4, where they will be working on Atwood/Hammett Drive, Fulton Avenue and Apple Street. They also plan to work on small stretches of seven different roads in Precinct 2, making up about 6.51 miles, and about .7 miles of Brazos Avenue from 38th Street to 48th Street in Precinct 3.

Kessey said there were three factors in determining which streets most needed the repairs: The condition of the roadway, the economic viability of that roadway, and the average daily traffic. Some of the roadways they’ll be working on, they’ve had to keep going back to due to pothole damage. By sealcoating, it will add an extra inch of protection onto the top of the roadway.

When asked if pothole filling is a daily activity of his department, Kessey laughed at first.

“Every day, we receive not less than 20 requests for potholes alone from the public,” he said. “With the number of personnel that we have, and as large as this county is, we try to keep up with it, but think about going back and always fixing the same pothole every day, every time.”

Kessey said one thing he did to relieve some stress from the amount of pothole fillings when he came in was to change the material used to fill the potholes. Originally, the county had been using a material that didn’t hold as well. It was wiped out by the rain and the cold. Coincidentally, it’s a material the commissioners had stuck to for the last 30 years, he said. The new material they’re using, Road Rescue Asphalt Patch, he said is pricier, but lasts longer than what they previously used.

In the meantime, Kessey said road maintenance is continuing with their daily routine tasks: potholes, trash, public requests, as well as reshaping some of the shorter roadways. The sealcoating project is expected to begin April 2, with a projected completion date of Sept. 12.

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