COUPEVILLE — Island County is expected to spend more than $3.9 million taking care of roads this summer.
According to Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works, this year’s paving and oiling program will see the maintenance of more than 46 miles, or about 8 percent, of the county’s total 582 miles of roadway.
Last year’s program saw less than 30 miles of roadwork, costing about $3 million. Oakes said additional money was taken out of the six-year capital projects fund this year to pay for the extra miles.
While more is being spent, Oakes said regular maintenance on roads when it’s required is actually cheaper in the long run. Delaying the work can be more expensive because roads deteriorate to the point that they need to be replaced, which is much more expensive.
“It’s cheaper to keep good roads good than let good roads go bad,” said Oakes, during a recent work session with the Island County commissioners.
There was some discussion by the board concerning cost. Commissioner Angie Homola supported the proposed work but worried about the future impact of taking money from the capital projects fund.
“There are lots of other things that need to be fixed,” Homola said.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson offered an alternative of spending a little less, saying that some of the work could be delayed until the Keystone oil pipeline is built and oil prices drop, which may result in cheaper asphalt and provide additional gas tax revenues.
Her proposal saw little traction among her colleagues.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and Homola both said they thought that was too big a gamble to take, that delay might mean the transition from a road that can be maintained to one that must be replaced.
Homola said the compromise would be to have fewer people driving on roads. Regular use and weather are what cause them to require repair and both are hard things to manage.
“So we’d have to change the weather or we’d have to limit the people on the road for the roads to somehow not mature,” Homola said.
“Well, why don’t you lead by example on that Angie and stop driving entirely,” Emerson retorted.
According to Oakes, Jefferson County is the only county in the state that spends less per mile than Island County on roads each year. Yet, he maintained that roads on Whidbey and Camano are some of the best in all of Washington.
“I would argue that we’re doing it right,” Oakes said.
“I would love for it to cost us less to maintain roads but it doesn’t,” he said.