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Paving equipment

HAMILTON – The Ravalli County Road Department is hoping its aging fleet of dump trucks can make it through one more winter.

County commissioners have tentatively agreed to spend up to $1 million to buy six new trucks to replace vehicles now edging close to the 20-year mark.

“These trucks are used hard all year round,” said Ravalli County Road Department Administrator John Horat. “They haul asphalt, sand, trees and debris. Some are converted to haul water. All of them are used for snow removal.”

This week, county officials opened bids that ranged from $140,000 to $170,000 per vehicle.

“We had four different models bid,” Horat said. “We’re seeing what the best fit will be for the county.”

Payment for the trucks would come from money that has been set aside for the past few years in the department’s equipment reserve fund.

“The last time they bought trucks, they had to borrow the money,” Horat said. “This time we’ll use the money that’s been set aside and money that’s been rolled over from last year’s budget that wasn’t expended.”

Some of that money held over from last year came from the federal government to help cover the costs of flooding that occurred a couple of years ago. Last year’s mild winter also saved the county on annual costs for patching asphalt.

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“The drop in the price of fuel has helped too,” Horat said. “When you use 52,000 gallons of diesel a year, a 70-cent drop makes a difference.”

Even if all the stars line up just right, Horat said he doesn’t expect to see the new trucks arrive before next March or April.

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“Unfortunately, all the truck manufacturers are backed up,” he said.

The trucks in the aging fleet have over 17,000 hours and well over 300,000 miles on them.

“They are 1995-vintage trucks,” he said. “Our mechanics do an excellent job of keeping them up and going. If it wasn’t for them, they would not be operating today.”

During the first four or five years in a truck’s life, it’s all about minor maintenance.

“The last 15 years, we’re seeing repairs needed for the frames, fuel-injection systems and transmissions,” Horat said. “A $100 repair becomes a $5,000 repair just to pay for parts. They’ve been good trucks, but now it’s time for a change if we want to keep the road clear and free from snow. We do need to upgrade.”

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