Harvey County Commissioners and department heads took a deep dive into the budget for Fiscal Year 2020 this week as hearings were held to discuss projected budgets and project requests from various county departments and partner agencies for the upcoming year.

In the Road and Bridge Department in particular, there were some major projects discussed among the commission and Road and Bridge Superintendent Jim Meier during this week's hearings.

While there are some typical structural improvements on the proposed project schedule (such as a much-needed replacement of Bridge M-7.6 on N.W. 36th Street, north of Harvey County West Park), some less routine projects are at least in the preliminary planning stages. Namely, the department is currently looking into the possibility of moving into a new facility — with funds for a study being requested as part of the 2020 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

"There's a great need for improvement, a great need to try to adapt to how equipment has changed in size," Meier said. "I think it would be money well spent to see what we can do."

Current Road and Bridge facilities have electric and plumbing issues on top of the size constraints administration attested to. While an upgrade of current facilities has been researched, the limitations of the land where the current Road and Bridge shop is located were also pointed out (being a strip). Commissioner Randy Hague brought up the land the county owns south of town as a site to look into but also questioned whether the county should consider looking into a joint facility to be shared among Newton's department and the local branch of the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Whatever option the county settles on, Meier noted the location would have to be just right to facilitate all the needs of the department.

Action on a new Road and Bridge facility is farther down the line, but a project that may be addressed much sooner is the major modification needed along Hesston Road/Highway 81, from Newton city limits to N.W. 108th.

"It's a multi-faceted problem that has grown over a lot of years," Meier said. "The justification is there."

Major safety issues with Hesston Road include deteriorating subsurface concrete that is in danger of buckling (especially in the summer heat), as well as the overall narrowness of the road, which would only be exacerbated if repaved with another layer of asphalt. At 22 feet, it is the narrowest paved road in the county. Additionally, the narrow road and shoulders — which are unpaved — increase the risks of drop-off.

Paving the shoulders would help broaden the road and increase the safety — along with other structural improvements like concrete patching, drainage improvements, etc. — of the county road with the highest ADT (average daily traffic), though Meier noted just how wide the county goes with the shoulder can affect the overall costs of the project.

Right now, the project is estimated at a total cost of $4,570,000, which includes a design phase. Given how frequently the need for that project is brought up in passing at commission meetings, questions were raised about whether some funds should be set aside for the Hesston Road project in the upcoming fiscal year. It is currently on the CIP schedule for 2021.

"I think we do need to move that engineer funding to 2020," Hague said.

Moving that design phase up will allow for exact details (like shoulder width) to be sorted out and give the commission time to seek out additional funding avenues — whether through the state or federal government — before officially moving forward with the construction phase.

Before the Hesston Road project goes too far, administration did note there would have to be some form of resolution passed if bonds are selected as a funding source for the project — pointing out that the county hasn't been successful overall getting state or federal aid in such projects.

With the work lined out and the project on the schedule, all that remains to move forward on the Hesston Road project is for Road and Bridge to get a green light from the Harvey County Commission.

"Everything is in place," Meier said, "it's just a matter of doing it."