Joe Welch on Madison public works
Madison’s new public works director, Joe Welch, has been with the city for three months now. Welch is a native of the metro Jackson area and graduated from Forrest Hill High School in 1976. Since then, he’s worked in plumbing and construction, simultaneously running his own business and obtaining a builder’s permit. He and his wife, Sharon, have been married for 28 years and they have four children. Sun Staff Writer Megan Phillips spoke with Welch about his plans for the department and what the department does for the city of Madison.
Where were you before you came to the public works department of Madison?
“I was self-employed in construction for the last 40 years basically. I started out in plumbing, and I worked through 16 years of networking for my family’s company. Then I went off on my own in 1992 until about three months ago.”
What made you decide to come here and make the transition?
“Just talking to them and trying to do something maybe a little different. I was offered the opportunity to come here and just make a change.”
What’s your biggest road project on your agenda right now for the city?
“Right now, that would be the Hoy Road project. We’re in the process. Hopefully by the end of 2018, they’ll get started on it. It’s a widening project just to help the traffic flow from the Northbay area back into (U.S. Highway) 51.”
What’s taking so long to get the actual construction for the project underway?
“I think a lot of it’s been the land acquisitions, right of ways. There’s just a lot to do to get a plan and move utilities over into the right of ways. You know, just a lot involved in it… And it’ll have a multi-use walking trail on it, too. So, it ought to be really nice when they get it all worked out.”
What other major road projects are there besides the Hoy Road widening project?
“Well, Welch Farms Road is almost complete between (Mississippi Highway) 463 and Madison Avenue. That ought to be great for Academy (Sports) opening in the spring this next year and school traffic.”
What’s lacking with that project?
“We should see completion by the end of the year on it. So, it’s really close. Everything’s going really well.”
What about the Madison Avenue project?
“It’s still in the early stages. They’re still talking about it. Nothing’s been secured funding-wise or anything. But it’s definitely on the books and being looked at. The first stage they’re looking at is between the railroad tracks and Highway 51, just that short span.”
What are your plans for the department, generally?
“A lot of the equipment is kept indoors, and (right now) we’re just trying to get it ready to clean up and put it in better shape… We’re just trying to get our back log of work orders out there from cleaning ditches to repairing sidewalks and streets; just caught up and in a little better shape. That’s our drive right now is trying to get it where hopefully we’re four to six weeks out instead of some of these things, which are months.”
Why are some things so far behind?
“I don’t know. We’re trying to get some new hires. Help is a lot of it. When I started, I think they were like 12 people down.”
How many are you supposed to have?
“Total, I think we have about 55, maybe… Right now, I think we’re around 65. We’re getting close to having all of the positions filled now, which is a big help. I think that’s going to help a lot — getting caught up.”
What does one of your average days as the public works director of Madison look like — is it mostly paperwork and meetings or is much of your time spent out in the field?
“It’s a little bit of both. Some days, it seems like it’s meetings all days, and others I have a chance to get caught up on paperwork, calling the residents back on complaints and things and trying to talk to them.”
Do you get a lot of calls from residents?
“Not a whole lot. A lot of the guys out in the field take care of it through the office. They issue the work orders.”
What is your biggest complaint from citizens?
“Probably streets: potholes and things. We get a lot of that, which we’re working on, or trying to…”
Are the roads pretty easy to maintain in Madison?
“I would say they are. It’s just a matter of getting to them. We’ve got a lot of neighborhoods that need asphalt replacement, resurfacing. Just getting that done, on the agenda, and the money to get them done.”
How often does the department have to repair a pothole in the city?
“I would say we’re out every week, patching potholes here and there.”
How often does it take to actually get out in the field to fix a minor road problem?
“If it’s an emergency type thing where someone calls and gets a flat tire from it, we’ll go out there the same day. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had that happen a time or two, where someone’s reported one, and the guys will get out there quick…”