Stimulus money to benefit Mercer County roads

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
DeWayne Fender, Mercer County Highway engineer

Federal stimulus money, amounting to $350,000 (of which 20 percent is from local matching grants) will help repair a portion of Knoxville Road, Mercer County Highway Engineer DeWayne Fender told members of the Aledo Chamber of Commerce at its breakfast meeting at Happy Joe's on Tuesday, April 14.

The stimulus money has to be a project that is ready to go. "There's tentative approval for the money to go to the Knoxville Road," he said.

That road is the second most heavily traveled road in the county according to Fender. "It's in really bad shape."

He said the work on Knoxville Road will be split into three phases, with phase one being a day labor job from the Rock Island County border to the Henry County Line. We'll do a section this year, another section the next year and the rest in the third year, he said. "We'll overlay the entire section with asphalt after three years making it a stable seal coated road."

Fender talked about this past winter's particularly harsh conditions and how they affected the county roads. The warm spells, followed by rain and then freezing temperatures is really hard on roads.

He said area flooding in November and December was the starting point. "It was an extremely bad winter," he said. A FEMA man came up to check out the area right after a 10-inch rain, he added. That helped get some federal stimulus money specifically aimed towards road repair.

He said that the cost of roadwork is not cheap. "One mile of asphalt costs about a half million dollars," he said.

The county has to match the stimulus with 20 percent of its own money, making the stimulus grant total at $280,000. Another example of the cost of roads was the price tag on the last leg of the New Boston blacktop that was done last year. "That cost $1.5 million," Fender said.

The New Boston blacktop project took 16 years to complete, according to Fender. "We don't want the Knoxville Road to take that long."

He said Mercer County has more than 150 miles of county roads. This year's gravel roads should be receiving more gravel, he said. There are 23 miles of gravel roads in the county.

One of the funding problems Mercer County faces is that state road money comes from motor fuel tax that comes back to the county from vehicle registrations, which is based on population. For example, Rock Island County has from five to seven times the amount of MFT. There are 145 miles of road in MC.

He cautioned that the county needs to build roads it can afford to maintain. He said that around $140,000 a year goes into road maintenance. Between the years of 2000 - 2008 the county saw a 50 percent decline in its purchasing power, due to the rising cost of fuel and people using less to save money.

One ray of hope for the future has to do with alternative energy sources. He speculated that if the county would get into wind farms in the future, there would be federal incentives to build and maintain better roads and receive supplemental funding with extra incentives. "We need to remain optimistic," he said. He said that if the county, villages, cities and townships work together to provide an infrastructure to get people out here, it will benefit everyone.

Chamber business

In chamber business the members learned there was enough money in the scholarship account to again give out $500 scholarships to this year's Aledo and Westmer valedictorians and saludatorians.

The chamber learned about a proposed Aledo night at the Quad City River Bandit's Modern Woodman Park for later this summer.

Matt Tangen from the QC River Bandits, spoke with chamber executives about the proposal, which is tentatively set for the Sunday, Aug. 23 ball game against Burlington with a 6 p.m. start time.

"They're wanting the chamber to spearhead this," said Faye Eckhardt, first vice president. She said the original date the Bandits were looking for was May 16, which would have interfered with area graduations.

"The businesses have got to get behind it," she added. The River Bandits are offering businesses several packages for the community night. "They also hope to have the Aledo Marching Band there to play the National Anthem," said Eckhardt.

They talked about bringing out little kids involved in baseball to come out during some of the entertainment.

"There's lots of things they could do to promote Aledo," said Eckhardt.

She said they need to set a deadline for ordering the packages, which are geared for businesses to use as a customer appreciation tool.

"If we could get in the summer Y teams and baseball teams it could work," said John Hoscheidt, last year's chamber president.

Eckhardt said they had an Aledo night last year and Midwest Bank had tickets. "We just gave the out to customers," she said.

She added that what the Bandit organization is doing is trying to get people from the Quad City area familiar with surrounding communities.

The chamber is also planning a golf fouting at Oak View on some future Wednesday.

The next chamber meeting will be a noon lunch meeting on May 12 at Perks, with outdoor dining if the weather permits.