Beginning his career as a laborer with the Washington County Highway Department, Calvin Becker saw firsthand the work that's done to maintain the infrastructure of Washington County.
Now, 28 years later, as the county highway superintendent, Becker has become an expert on many of the issues and problems facing Washington County's infrastructure in the difficult economy.
Becker also worked as a truck driver and equipment operator before becoming the assistant highway superintendent, and then highway superintendent.
Q: How have things changed the past 28 years for Washington County in terms of infrastructure and how it's maintained?
A: It's like everything else I think. The inflation is the big thing, the cost of products back then versus today. The same money doesn't buy as much. Material wise, we've gotten away from steel culverts and gone to plastic culverts. That's much better as there's not as much maintenance since plastic doesn't rust. One thing that's really changed with the highways is the amount of utilities that is in our right of way that didn't use to be. When I started here, even when I started as assistant superintendent, there were 40 to 48 people. Now there's 20, not counting supervisors.
Q: How do you prioritize which projects get done? What's the process?
Residence: Stanleyville Road.
Family: Wife Stephanie, two children, one grandson.
Experience: 28 years with the Washington County Highway Department.
A: I try to set up an agenda. Right now we're installing culverts. The next step would be ditching and then I'll start into grader work. About two weeks before Memorial Day we'll start mowing. Some of that is subject to weather. For better or worse, there's never a lack of something to do.
Q: How much has technology changed the way construction is done?
A: The mechanization I guess. A lot of the equipment has improved. As far as putting in a culvert, 28 years ago you put it in with a backhoe and today you still put it in with a backhoe. The plastic culverts are pretty big. The public likes to see more salt used in winter so there are clearer roadways. Using more salts means more corrosion, so plastic pipes were pretty big. The equipment has improved as far as the hydraulics, the mobility of them, but it's still the same equipment. Most of what we do is still pretty much the same.
Q: What effect has the economy had, and will it have, on the infrastructure of the county?
A: If I could tell the future I'd have a better handle on it. So far we're holding our own as far as road conditions. With the loss of the sales tax, it's hard to maintain the same level of roadways with the loss of revenue. A lot of our income comes from the gasoline tax. Well, now people are buying less gas. We're holding pretty fair road conditions with the revenue. We're able to work with it. Our workers utilize the dollars we do have to the best we can.
Q: What do you think the future holds for infrastructure in the county?
A: If there was a way the commissioners could see to get our one cent sales tax back, that would definitely help us out. If not, it's possible there would be less paved roads and more chip and seal. We could maintain a hard surface with less cost. We're holding our own and doing a pretty good job. There's 340 miles of road in the county and every one of those has two sides. In the summer we'll mow two times, and in the fall when we start mowing we'll mow four times. If you do the math, that's a lot of miles. It's possible that could cut back a few rounds. It may get to the point where we may not be able to do that because of all the diesel fuel. Things like that I could see changing, but we're not saying that'll happen this year.
Kevin Pierson conducted this interview.