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East Texas cities team up for road savings

By Richard Yeakley
Feb. 7, 2015 at 11 p.m.

Savvy shoppers know buying in bulk can save money in the long run.

Four East Texas cities are hoping to get into the action by bidding road work together to secure lower costs for services they already buy each year.

"This concept has ... been in the works for 20 years now in West Texas," said Gladewater City Manager Sean Pate. "The concept of regionalism is something that exists in different areas of the state."

Gladewater, Kilgore, White Oak and Whitehouse have agreed to bid seal coating together this year in hopes that the abundance of work will mean a cheaper deal.

"A seal coat job is really where you take an existing road, and you level the road up by basically patching it," Pate said. "Then what the seal coat process is, a contractor is going to use an aggregate sealing mixture of oil ... a tar type mixture. ... It is similar to painting your house."

The process help keep good roads good.

"It is to keep the structural integrity of the street together for another seven to eight years," Pate said.

Pate said Melba Avenue and Lee Drive in Gladewater are scheduled for the treatment.

Seth Sorensen, director of public works for Kilgore, said seal coating is something the city had done in the past, but not in recent years.

"We are working to implement a roadway maintenance plan, and as part of that, one of our philosophies is we want to keep our good roads in good condition. Seal coating is a cheap alternative to be able to do that," he said. "It is much cheaper than reconstruction."

Sorensen said the city has set aside $100,000 for the work this year.

"This gives us a chance to maintain our roads at a low unit cost and make our dollars go further," he said.

Scott Houston, general counsel for the Texas Municipal League, said such cooperative purchasing agreements are fairly common.

"I think it happens fairly frequently throughout the state with contracts between all types of local governments, whether it is a school and a city, city and a city or city and a county," he said.

He said regional cooperative groups, unlike the Texas BuyBoard that is administered by the Texas Association of School Boards and sponsored by the municipal league, also allow cities to shop local.

"A lot of times cities won't want to use (the BuyBoard) because it may not allow the use of local bidders," he said. "Just as a matter of economics, if they can join up and purchase more units, they are probably going to be a cheaper price, no matter what the goods."

<h3>Recent development</h3>

The cooperative purchasing agreement has been made official in a little less than two months.

The Kilgore and White Oak city councils voted on the measure Dec. 9.

According to the minutes of the White Oak City Council meeting, council members asked whether the agreement would be binding and fleshed out details of a pre-construction meeting with Allen Ross from Schaumburg and Polk of Tyler.

Councilman Greg Hulett recommended approval of the agreement, and Councilman Lance Noll seconded it. It was unanimously approved.

Kilgore's decision also was unanimous, with Councilwoman Lori Weatherford making the motion and Councilman Neil Barr seconding it.

Gladewater unanimously approved the project Dec. 18.

According to its meeting agenda, the Whitehouse City Council discussed the proposal Jan. 27.

The minutes of that meeting have not been approved and are not available. Whitehouse officials did not respond to a request for information about how the council chose to direct staff at the meeting.

Pate said the goal is to have work completed this summer.

"We want to be able to bid out no later than early spring," he said. "You want to wrap your seal coating before the winter, or it won't stick."

<h3>Future programs</h3>

Low gas prices and having four cities bid together will help reduce prices this year, Pate said, but the goal is for even more cooperation.

"This thing has the potential to grow to as many as 10 cities," Pate said. "I think this is a good, smart move for every city in every region involved. This is directly going to benefit the taxpayers."

He said there are several cities that considered joining in 2015 but had not budgeted money for the project.

"This is going to be geared more toward smaller communities. Longview and Tyler are fairly self sufficient. They have enough other projects to be able to keep their costs down low," Pate said, adding that the ideal cities are those with a population less than 20,000 people.

While savings the first year might be minimal, the larger the regional effort grows, the more savings that could be seen.

Pate said areas of West Texas that bid collaboratively have seen work that may cost Gladewater $3 per square yard cost between $1 and $1.65 per square yard, because the region is able to bid out about 1 million square yards of roadwork at a time.

"We probably could see at least 50 to 60 cents a square yard savings. That could easily compute on a large job to $75,000," he said.

Sorensen said he would like to see more types of projects bid on.

"What we are really doing this year, beyond the project itself, we are kind of putting out there the framework of what the cooperative will look like. (We could) implement overlays, milling, concrete patching, and, really, we could extend it to any number of services," he said. "Anything that has to do with the roadway network."



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