Transportation officials playing catch-up thanks to rain delays
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jul 16, 2013 | 2973 views |  0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City workers in Weaver remove a tree at Raymond Elwell Park on Tuesday.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
City workers in Weaver remove a tree at Raymond Elwell Park on Tuesday. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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In Weaver, a reprieve from the rain means playing catch-up on roadwork.

At least that’s how Joey Conger, the public works director for the city, looks at the dry weather, an increasing rarity in Calhoun County so far this year.

“Since I’ve started we’ve kind of been behind,” Conger said on the constant wear and tear on Weaver roads due to heavy rainfall. Today, Conger was taking advantage of the lack of rain to clean up a tree that fell in Weaver’s park, but most of his time on dry days is spent on Weaver’s roads. The city’s used more than two truckloads of asphalt in the last six months to patch up potholes that pop up every time the rain comes, he said.

“We try and put a little extra when we cover them now,” Conger said. “When it rains you can’t really patch them up, and so you’re always kind of playing catch-up.”

In the first six months of 2013, 40.1 inches of rain dropped on Calhoun County according to the National Weather Service in Calera. That’s four inches shy of the total rainfall the county saw in all of 2012. And if the pace keeps up, Calhoun County’s total precipitation for the year could easily pass the 69 inches recorded in 1975, the wettest year since the Weather Service started keeping local records in 1903.

Actually predicting weather patterns is tricky, but transportations officials are factoring in how to deal with inclement weather more and more when they look at long-term projects.

“The feds have said they’d like to see us take rainfall into consideration when we plan projects,” said Jack Plunk, a principal planner with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission. Plunk is also a member of the Calhoun County Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group that plans transportation and road projects for the county. He said he started receiving memos in October asking engineers and planners to factor in the building of more drainage ditches when working on projects.

“It looks like they were expecting more of this sort of thing for the foreseeable future,” Plunk said.

Linda Crockett, a public information specialist with the Alabama Department of Transportation, said almost all of the department’s projects in Calhoun County have seen some type of delay in 2013 due to the weather. This includes resurfacing of parts of Alabama 21 in Oxford, Alabama 9 near Piedmont, work on the Veterans Memorial Parkway and bridge repairs north of Piedmont.

Rusty Gann, Calhoun County’s assistant engineer, said long periods of rain can hold up large projects, but it’s the day-to-day work that most gets thrown out of whack by the weather.

“I wouldn’t really call it catch-up, but things have to get pushed back,” Gann said about the work orders that can pile up when it’s tough to work outdoors. “The things you can’t do just keep getting pushed back until you can do them.”

Gann said his crews have been especially hit hard this year with the constant threat of flooding comes with the rain, which can close roads and fill up a workload of yards and public property that needs clearing. But the biggest hurdle of all the rain, Gann said, is the blocking of drains in the county.

“Anytime it rains debris gets caught,” Gann said. “We’ve spent a lot of time this year unblocking drains, that’s the biggest thing.”

Forecasts for the rest of the week show only a low chance for rain and storms, which is probably a sigh of relief for road crews in the county, even if you can’t always predict exactly when the clouds are going to come or not.

“Weather wise, we’re just trying to stay dry and get some work done,” Plunk said.

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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