By David Timmerman
The upcoming year will be a busy one for roadways throughout Grant County as the State of Wisconsin is planning to move forward with reconstructing STH 81 between Lancaster and Platteville.
While the state will be looking to rectify issues with the major roadway, the county highway department is going to be getting a new leader, as longtime Commissioner Dave Lambert is slated to retire sometime in April.
Last reconstructed in 2006, methods and materials used during that time are believed to have caused the numerous cracks and waves in the roadway, that had to be crack-filled two years after reconstruction.
How well the new asphalt was adhering to the original concrete surface, which was broken up during construction into sections, may have been a cause, in addition to retention of moisture.
By comparison, it had been three decades in between reconstruction of USH 61 between Lancaster and Fennimore.
The plan currently being drawn up would be to remove and recycle the asphalt currently on the roadway, as well as completely remove the concrete from underneath. place eight inches of new base to the road.
The work will require detours during construction. While the official detours will utilize other state highways, some may want to use county roads as a shorter work-around. Unfortunately, Grant County is planning to work on portions of CTH A between Union and Arthur, which will also be closed for a portion of next summer.
As it is still listed officially in the design phase by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, details on dates and schedule of the project have yet to be finalized.
Lambert to retire
This is the last winter that Lambert will be Grant County Highway Commissioner, as he is planning to retire this coming April. With the exception of four years, Lambert has worked for the highway department in some form since 1980, when he started as a student. A year later he was working in the engineering department, and worked there until 2001, when he went into the private sector for four years, before returning to take over for Stan Abing.
After joking that the county can find someone who has more patience to handle new methods being used by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Lambert said that this was the plan to retire in the coming months, as he will be reaching his 64th birthday in 2021, and with his wife already retired, it was time so they could begin to do some traveling on roads of their own, hopefully when the pandemic is over, travel out west to visit Dave’s father, former Herald Independent Editor and Publisher Cal Lambert.
Lambert prayed his two predecessors, Abing and Nelson Huskie, as ““I probably learned more about roads from them than in college,” Lambert said in 2006 after a year as commissioner.
Looking back at his tenure as highway commissioner, Lambert was proud of what the department and county were able to accomplish while he was there.
When Lambert took over back in 2005, one of his goals was to maintain and update the more than 240 bridges in the county. He feels they have been able to get to those bridges, incorporate different approaches in bridge design.
“The bridges, I am most proud of that,” Lambert shared.
Another item that was a top priority forLambert during an interview in 2006 was to update the various shops across the county. The highway department has shops where patrolmen can deploy to hit sections of roads, and Lambert was quite proud of the updates that have been made.
He quipped that at one point some of those shops did not even have restroom facilities, leaving patrolmen to get creative, but they have made strives in the past 15 years, including replacing the facility in Platteville amongst others.
“We have come a long way with our shops,” Lambert said.
Winter crystalizes the need for such updates - a patrol truck sits indoors, the salt in the back is dry and warm, which means it will come off the spreader easier right away, leading to better melting.
Staying with the snow clearing, some new methods have been incorporated in how the county clears and maintains the roads, preventing ice buildup. One of those has been the incorporation of brine to the spread that goes on the roads.
Starting with one truck that would spray the roads, the county now has a dozen trucks equipped with brine tanks, that deploy the brine mixture with the salt off the spinner.
“That makes things melt faster,” Lambert said.
But it isn’t just about melting during or after a snowfall, its about prevention, too. Lambert noted that in a precursor to an upcoming storm, crews will be using a tanker equipped with a sprayer, and coating roads. Provided it does not rain, and wash the brine away before snowfall, the brine on the roads helps slow down the creation of black ice, going crews more time to clear the roads.
Lambert has had to deal with a number of major storm events that have washed out portions of roads. While 2019 and 2020 have been relatively quite, Lambert stated that “we spent a lot of 2019 working on the damage from 2018.
He said that storms seemed to have evolved. “We will get storms that drop two inches on the area in an hour, whereas it used to be rare to see six inches dropped overnight,” Lambert said.
Lambert said that he wished he would have gotten to more roads during his tenure, paving and replacing, but that the metrics have changed, with prices for things like asphalt doubling since he became highway commissioner, but the budgets have not doubled.
Still he feels that the county has done quite a bit while staying within that budget, and they have been aggressive making sure they get funding for projects.
Take for example three new projects that will be partially funded by federal funds in the next three years. Where some counties were unable to use the funds, Grant County has lined up funding for replacing CTH A between Union and Arthur in 2021, CTH Q northeast of Fennimore in 2022, and CTH A from Bloomington towards Lancaster in 2023.
Having three projects lined up at once is a first for Lambert, noting they are usually more sporadic.
Planning ahead and being efficient allowed the highway department to help out quite a bit in the overall 2021 county budget. Every year, the highway department has undesignated revenue from its work for the state to clear state highways, s well as other contracted work for local governments. While they have had years where that revenue generated was around $35,000, this year was closer to $440,000.
Usually, that money supplements road work for the upcoming year, or will help with the ongoing capital projects, but this year, the department pushed that money to the general fund of the county to help balance out the books.
Lambert said that the way its set up, the highway department is still in good shape for projects coming in 2021, it just means there will not be additional funds to tackle more projects.
Because of the light winter, thee will be leftover snow clearing funds that can be held, and provided there is not a heavy first months of 2021, there still might be some funds to be added to the allocated road work budget.