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‘The need for improvement’s really high’

November 26, 2019 by Brian Jopek

A couple of years ago, Vilas County’s highway M east to its intersection with County Highway N was reconstructed. 

Now, another stretch of Hwy. M is the subject of a Multimodal Local Supplement (MLS) grant application. 

Members of the Vilas County board’s highway committee last week received an update from county highway commissioner Nick Scholtes on an MLS grant application he’s submitted. 

The grant, if ultimately approved, would cover 90% of the cost by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for what Scholtes said is a $1.7 million improvement project on Hwy. M between Hwys. N and K. 

“It’s 5.4 miles in length and has a PASER rating of 3,” he said, a reference to the road’s Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating. 

“It’s in distressed condition right now,” Scholtes said. “We’ve got a serious problem out there.”

The average daily traffic count for that stretch of road is 2,700.

“Which means it’s our busiest county trunk highway,” Scholtes said, adding with campgrounds and bicycle trails in that immediate area it’s “a major tourist destination.”

“The need for improvement’s really high,” he said. 

Using a brief slide show, he went through what his MLS application has in it, essentially conveying the more detail, the better. 

“We have to take and show the economic benefits of these projects,” Scholtes said. “If you can show the economic development benefit, it gives you more points on the criteria.”

He also highlighted not only the pavement condition, but the need for replacement of a large culvert — about $150,000 just for that — and guardrail replacement.

“We wanted to show them the deficiencies of the road in that particular area,” Scholtes said. 

One other thing he stressed in the grant application is what he referred to as “a major presence” along that  stretch of Hwy. M of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

“By showing their forestry headquarters is located here — we also showed they (DNR) have a fishery research area, shooting range and other things in that area — so, what we wanted to show is the diversity of the area,” Scholtes said. “We’re hoping that’s looked on favorably when they look at our application.”

If it does get awarded to Vilas County, Scholtes said he’d have to work it into the county’s five year road plan, whether it would get done in 2020 or get pushed back to 2021. 

“We have to pay for it up front and then they reimburse us the 90%,” he said. “We’d have six years to build it.”

Scholtes said if it were awarded, Vilas County’s share would be $170,000, but one of the questions on the application pertained to amount of grant money itself by asking “Would you accept less?”

“Everybody’s going to say ‘Yes’ simply because there isn’t enough money to go around,” he said. “In that particular case, even if you said 50% you’re still ahead of the game.”

Committee member Chuck Hayes asked about the makeup of the committee which reviews the different applications.

Scholtes said there are eight county highway commissioners, three county board members and a director from the Wisconsin County Highway Association “ there for advisement only.”

“I’m on the committee as one of the eight (highway commissioners),” he said. “We cannot review our own projects.”

“So, you can’t vote on this project personally?” Hayes asked. “Nor can you lobby for it?”

“Right,” Scholtes told him. 

He said the county should hear whether or not it gets the MLS funding sometime in January or February.

Other matters

The committee also last week:

• Saw the opening of bids by Scholtes for a new quad-axle patrol truck. 

There were four bids for the chassis/cab and two for the equipment to go on the truck. All the bids will be qualified and a recommendation brought to the committee at its Dec. 17 meeting. 

If the truck purchase is approved at the next meeting, the estimate for its arrival is in the September 2020, time frame. 

• Approved a bid from Truck Equipment  of $5,617 for a flatbed and another of $10,690.16 from VeriTech for a brine tank.

County patrol superintendent Troy Schalinske said the plan was to remove the dump box from one of the older patrol trucks and install the flatbed and tank. 

Scholtes said the new truck, if approved, would take what will become the brine truck’s place in the fleet.

• Approved a bid of $11,225 from CORE, Inc. to be the design consultant on the County Hwy. B project.

• Heard from Tom Numrich, the department’s finance director, regarding where things were with the department’s 2019 budget. 

“In terms of percentages, we are right where we should be,” he said. “10 months gone, 83%. We’re right where we need to be.”

Numrich said the department would probably go over budget on both routine maintenance and winter maintenance. 

“But the big picture on the budget, we’re OK,” he said. “We’re OK right now. We’re right where we should be.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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