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Winter expenses cause delay in new county salt building

MORRIS – To see just how relentlessly Grundy County maintenance crews worked to keep roadways safe and driveable this winter, look at the budget.

The Grundy County Highway Department is expected to be 63 percent over the $325,000 budgeted for road salt, truck fuel and overtime hours this winter, Grundy County Engineer Craig Cassem said.

“With the harsher winter, we had more time on the roads, which means more overtime pay and more fuel,” Cassem said.

Looking at what the department has already spent plus what they are projected to spend, Cassem said the final cost of fuel, overtime and salt will be about $530,000.

To account for the added and unexpected $206,000 expenditure, the department decided during last week’s Highway Committee meeting to dip into funds for the new salt storage building.

The department set aside $400,000 for the new building so about half of the funds will be diverted to pay for the extra maintenance costs.

“Our current salt building is old and needs a lot of work,” Cassem said.

Construction was set to begin this spring, but is now delayed until next spring until the funds can be recouped, Cassem said.

“It’s been a big year for us,” Cassem said. “I can’t remember being this far over budget in the past.”

Despite higher than normal maintenance costs, the highway department does not anticipate spending more than budgeted for pothole repairs, Cassem said.

County workers are seeing a “typical” number of potholes this winter and are working about three times a week to fill the holes, he said.

The spring thaw could bring more potholes however, as roads thaw and become more vulnerable to the pressure of passing cars.

Morris Director of Public Works Jim Gretencord said road crews have been working about once a week to temporarily repair holes with “cold patches,” which will need to replaced with a more permanent fix this spring.

Gretencord did not know exactly how many potholes city crews have tended to, but said the city had roughly 20 water main breaks this winter, which created major holes in the road.

“The roads are definitely worse than usual,” Gretencord said. “It’s been a pretty awful winter for our roads.”

Potholes form when moisture – snow, ice and rain – seeps below the surface of the pavement and freezes, causing the ground beneath the road to expand and push the pavement upward.

When the moisture thaws, the ground settles and a cavity is created between the asphalt and the ground. As vehicles drive over the weakened spot, the pavement caves and drivers are left with pitted roadways.

This winter’s relentless cold, ice and snow has already proved damaging to local roads, but could be accelerated as the still-frozen ground begins thawing.

So far, Morris has spent a “minimal” amount of money on repairs, but anticipates spending much more this spring as crews begin doing more extensive and permanent work, Gretencord said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has already supplied more than 11,500 tons of asphalt for pavement repairs which is much higher than usual, IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.

“If we get reports of potholes, we try to address them immediately, even if it’s just a temporary fix,” Miller said. “We will be monitoring them closely as the ground begins to thaw.”

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