The Cape Girardeau County Commission will seek proposals from private engineering firms to write specifications for improving county roads that will apply to private contractors and county road crews.
After initially rejecting the idea Monday, commissioners reversed that decision Thursday after hearing from Larry Payne, chairman of the county Road and Bridge Advisory Board.
The board, an 11-member panel representing every township in the county, has done enough research to show that the engineering study can be completed for $5,000 or less, Payne told commissioners. In their actions Monday, commissioners had originally directed county highway administrator Scott Bechtold to do the work.
Bechtold is qualified but overburdened, Payne said. In addition to his duties directing the department, Payne said, board subcommittees have been consuming much of his time as they study the entire county road program.
"Using Scott Bechtold's time getting roads paved rather than writing specifications is best for the county," Payne said.
Cape Girardeau County is about to embark on an ambitious program of road improvements. Voters narrowly approved a sales tax last year to accelerate the county paving program for gravel roads, but voters were told that the highway department wouldn't add any new employees. The program promises to exceed the department's ability to prepare roads for paving, Payne said, and that means the county will have to hire contractors to meet the goals.
"We need a set of specifications in place so contractors can all bid on the same work," he said.
Most roads slated for paving must be widened, which means moving ditches and making sure the soil and rock at the shoulder is properly compacted so it will endure years of wear, Payne said. Other specifications include the proper slope for roads and thickness of rock and asphalt layers.
A sense of urgency
The advisory board wants to meet the goals set every year and the county is already starting this year behind, with only about six miles of the 8.95 miles of road promised for paving this year ready for work.
"We are feeling a sense of urgency to get this done so we can show the citizens of Cape Girardeau some results," Payne said.
Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, who had questioned the need for outside help Monday, agreed that keeping promises is a top goal.
Each contractor -- and the county highway department -- would be required to submit inspection reports showing that all of the specifications have been met on each job, Payne said.
Commissioner Jay Purcell said he decided to change his position on using a private engineering firm after attending the advisory board meeting Monday evening. "An outside firm doing the study lends more credence to the process," he said.
Commissioner Larry Bock, who oversees the road department for the commission, said he was satisfied as long as Bechtold helped prepare the list of items that the private engineers will study.
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