Alachua County’s road system needs help, and the county knows it.
Ramon Gavarrete, director of public works for the county, addressed the roadway system at joint meetings between the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the cities of Hawthorne and Newberry in May.
“Unfortunately, today, a lot of our roads, if not most, are in the bottom of the curve, and I don’t think that’s a surprise to most of us who drive our roadways,” Gavarrete said at the Newberry meeting on May 23.
Despite a road network value of $1.53 billion, Alachua County’s road system is worth $900 million to $1.1 billion right now as decades of deferred maintenance drags down the overall value.
The county currently has a backlog of $408 million. Gavarrete said Alachua County did little to no road maintenance from the early 2000s through 2016 when he joined county staff.
The average pavement condition index (PCI), taken in 2020, for county maintained roads is 60 out of 100—on the border between a grade of fair and poor. As an engineer, he says anything below a 70 is failing for him, but improving the road system to a 70 would require $41.5 million a year from now through 2040.
“You’re borderline failing when your grade is a 60,” Gavarrete said in a phone interview.
Gavarrete compares the road system with a roof on a house. If a homeowner keeps up maintenance and replaces the shingles when needed, the underlying plywood and structure remains in strong condition. But, because of the deferred maintenance, Alachua County needs to replace a lot of the underlying infrastructure instead of just the shingles.
The BOCC heard the report from Gavarrete in September 2021, and the county hopes to begin addressing the issue by using a series of funding sources to triple the current annual roads budget—from $4.5 million a year to a goal of $15 million.
Alachua County also plans a switch from the current “worst first” approach to roads to a pavement management system in 2023.
Gavarrete said the new pavement management system, along with the financing plan, will begin the long climb to improve the county road system.
“Right now, we’re definitely losing money on our roadway system,” Gavarrete said.
Currently, the county tackles the worst roads first with a focus on high volume roads, but the management system uses an algorithm that shows where the county can get the most worth for its money. The goal of the system is to maximize the money while not letting assets fall into poor condition.
Using the system might mean doing preventative maintenance on five miles of roadway that was repaved recently instead of completely redoing one mile of road in poor condition.
However, even if the county supplies $15 million a year to its roads, the average road condition would still worsen from now to 2040, from a PCI of 60 to 50. Although, the number of roads rated above 80—good condition—would increase by around 5%.
Gavarrete explained in a phone call that even if the county repairs 10 miles of road to 100 PCI each year, the other 690 miles of the roadway system degrades and keeps the average stagnate.
To keep the roads in the same average condition from now through 2040, public works would need $31.5 million a year, and if the county keeps its current budget, the average PCI would halve to 30 in the same timeframe.
The BOCC looks to keep the current road budget and add two new funding sources to reach $15 million a year.
First, the budget will keep the current allocation of $4.5 million—up from a budget of $500,000 in 2012—according to Commissioner Chuck Chestnut IV at the Newberry meeting. This budget doesn’t include gas tax funds, but Gavarrete said most of the gas tax gets portioned out to other areas, not road maintenance.
Second, the BOCC said it will dedicate half of the new property tax funds to roads. With Florida’s population on the rise, the county will receive more money from property taxes—an estimated 8-10% increase.
Newberry alone plans to grow by at least 300 citizens a year, and Florida grew by an estimated 242,000 from 2020 to 2021.
BOCC Commissioner Ken Cornell said the county estimated $9-11 million in new property taxes, meaning it will dedicate around $5 million from that to roads.
The county’s final and largest funding source remains uncertain. The county hopes voters pass a full-cent surtax in November, increasing the current half-cent surtax used to fund Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP).
The proposed one-cent surtax will go before voters in November after the BOCC approved ballot wording and funding percentages in March. Alachua County is one of six counties to keep a half-cent surtax in Florida. All other counties have a full cent or higher.
If voters agree, the BOCC said it will use $7-8 million of the one-cent surtax to provide around half of the $15 million roads fund while still funding WSPP at its current level and financing new housing initiatives.
The BOCC has advocated for the new surtax at both joint meetings with Hawthorne and Newberry and asked for the respective city commissions’ support.
Gavarrete said that as he’s presented the facts on the roadway system, feedback seems in favor of the surtax. But the county can only give the information and let the voters decide.
If the BOCC can gather the additional funds, Gavarrete will manage around $16.5-17.5 million annually to begin fixing roads, but he said improving the road system will take time and inflation could hamper progress.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know that we’re going to be able to do much next year because of the inflation,” Gavarrete said.
Costs to mill and resurface one mile of road have increased $400,000 to $500,000, putting the total cost at around $1.5 mill
ion. At the BOCC meeting with Newberry, Gavarrete told the commissioners that material costs have risen 30-40% since September 2021.
Without the increased surtax, Alachua County will need to find alternative funding sources or move forward with the current budget that keeps road conditions declining.
Cost of Repairing Roads per Alachua County
Roads in good condition: $0.65-$5.00 per square yard
Roads in fair condition: $44.00 per square yard
Roads in fair/poor condition: $48.50 per square yard
Roads in poor condition: $75.00 per square yard
Roads in very poor condition: $156.00 per square yard