road work

Road department employees install a new culvert pipe on Pine Road near Mershon last Thursday. Nathan Dell operates the backhoe, while Lee Bazemore (far side) and David Ganey Jr. (behind machinery) assist on the ground. Kristal Norris (not shown) transported the equipment.

Pierce County’s roads have been a mess and no one knows that better than Public Works Superintendent Billy Flynn and County Manager Jason Rubenbauer.

County road crews have used every bit of dry weather and sunny skies to repair damage and washouts from torrential rains earlier this spring and again on the weekend of April 24.

The dry, sunny days have helped allow road crews to identify and correct problems.

“We are slowly getting back to normal,” said Flynn.

Rubenbauer echoed Flynn’s remark, but also noted more work remains to be done.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said.

The heavy spring rains washed out or made two dozen roads county wide impassable.

Since that time, Flynn and his work crews have fanned out across the county pulling ditches and replacing pipes in an effort to improve drainage.  

Flynn and his staff of 14 employees are responsible for maintaining roughly 420 miles of dirt roads in Pierce County.

In January 2020, Rubenbauer implemented a new road maintenance plan, where the county’s road graders were placed in pairs to allow them to cover more ground.  

Complications arose that prevented the plan from being fully implemented, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to follow public health protocols and we had some employees out sick, so that broke up the pairings,” he said.

The county has been making an effort to upgrade its equipment in recent years, but until that project is completed, some equipment is prone to breakdowns, the manager says.

The county currently operates four road graders, a back hoe, a trac hoe and a packer and uses semi-tractor trailer trucks to transport the equipment.

The road graders are all 2014 models or newer, but some of the dump trucks date back to 1989. The county recently purchased a new motor grader and back hoe which should be delivered and in service within the next couple of months.

 The pandemic and competition for trained employees has also made it hard for the road department to maintain full staffing.

Currently, the 15 person department has vacancies for a heavy equipment operator, a CDL driver and a laborer — or roughly 20 percent of the work force.

“Unfortunately, that means we have to be more reactive than proactive,” Flynn said. “We have been working hard to get caught up, but honestly, there probably isn’t such a word as that in our line of work.”

The latest complication is delivery delays on culvert pipe orders due to supply and labor shortages.

“We order culvert pipes and we will get them in, but we don’t know when they are coming,” Flynn said.

Still, the road superintendent says he is proud that the department has gotten all of the roads reopened and passable.

Rubenbauer says he is aware of the resident complaints and is trying to address them all. Road complaints from residents have been a regular feature of the last two county commission meetings.

“We are back in full operations now that we have experienced drier weather conditions and we are seeing a huge amount of progress in a very short time,” said the manager.

Complaints are logged at the road department and at the county office and those issues are reportedly ranked according to severity and then addressed.

Rubenbauer has shared the call logs with county commissioners for county-wide tallies.

The manager and Flynn encourage residents to call the road department at 449-2030 or county commission office at 449-2022 with road issues.