A 1,500 percent increase is a lot to handle. That's exactly what Jeff Long is doing in his new role as superintendent and head of fleet maintenance for the Walker County Roads Department.
He formerly served in various roles in Fort Oglethorpe where he maintained 45 miles of roadway. He is now responsible for maintaining 700 miles of roadway throughout Walker County.
"I like new challenges and to stay busy," said Long, who at one time served 20 years as a Walker County firefighter, moving up to the rank of battalion chief. "I grew up in Walker County. I loved the city of Fort Oglethorpe and I had been there for 22 years. It was a change and a challenge [coming to Walker County]. I maintain the roads and the right-of-ways. I don't deal with brush pickup now."
Noting that Lookout Mountain is part of his new territory, he said, "I've worked on snow and ice. We were out recently one night for eight hours taking care of roads."
In Fort Oglethorpe, Long worked with two snow plows. His department in Walker County has 12 snow plows ready to go, should the salt and sand his department puts down not be enough.
"Over the last six years, I built two salt brine systems in Fort Oglethorpe," he added. "My goal this summer is to build a salt brine system to pre-treat roads in Walker County. I want to pre-treat roads since we have Lookout Mountain to maintain and all. You spray down roads with salt water ahead of time. You spray it on bridges and mountains. It turns it to slush and makes it easier to remove. The employees look forward to it."
While Long said he likes to be out on the roads with the group, he also has a lot of paperwork to deal with. In his new role, he said he deals a lot with the Georgia Department of Transportation, trying to secure funding for the county's projects.
"I've worked with the DOT to try to get funding for roadwork," said Long. "Commissioner Heiskell was awarded a sign replacement [grant] and to stripe roads and bring them up to the latest standard. Out of 16 counties in the DOT district, they awarded three counties. I applied and I was fortunate enough to get funding."
With the $300,000 to $400,000 awarded through the new fund, he hopes to get 19 roads completed.
"DOT will pay direct for it and bid it. It should be done sometime this year," he said, noting that once started, the projects should take six months to a year to complete.
The county is currently wrapping up its 2015 paving projects and starting on its 2016 paving priorities.
"We are working with the DOT," said Long. "We paved Wilson Road out of Rossville. We paved Lee-Clarkson Road out of Chickamauga from the Catoosa County line to the Chickamauga city limits. As soon as the weather breaks, we will pave the three and a half miles of Lake Howard Road. We will also pave a portion of Straight Gut Road from the railroad tracks and around to Walker State Prison. We can do about nine miles of roadway per year. It's 70/30 money [from the Local Maintenance Improvement Grant] Funding; Walker County has a 30 percent match."
Long said he could not ask for a better group of employees with which to tackle his new challenge. He oversees 40 employees.
"If they need my help, I'm out there with them," he said. "I made a few day-to-day changes to make it easier on the guys.
"Bebe Heiskell is a great commissioner to work for," Long added. "Bebe is very knowledgeable. The department heads run their departments. She has faith in all of them. She's got 40-plus years in working in the county."