The first open session for the 61st Board of Carroll County Commissioners included a presentation on unpaved roads in the county, encouraging the board to consider possible ways to resolve issues — particularly in District 1.
After staff from various departments introduced themselves to the two new members of the board and talked about a few county projects, the Department of Public Works did a briefing, per District 1 Commissioner Stephen Wantz’s request.
“This is one of my biggest headaches,” Wantz said, “and see — everyone around me is laughing about it, but I even got a call this morning.”
With 5.9 percent of the county’s 977 miles of roads unpaved, Public Works Deputy Director Doug Brown said the department also receives regular calls about unpaved roads.
“It’s not necessarily so much accidents, but … challenges for drivers, potholes, ruts, recurring issues have been constant challenges,” he said.
Problems on gravel roads
More than 60 percent of the county's unpaved roads are in Wantz’s district. With 36.7 miles of gravel roads, it makes up 11.7 percent of the 313 total miles of road in the district.
District 4 has the second-most unpaved roads, at 10.4 miles, and District 5 has no unpaved roads at all.
“I had a guy stuck in a pothole on Green Meadow [Lane] about three weeks ago,” said Wantz, “stuck coming out of his house. So think about that.
“It’s a serious issue,” he said. “It is something we can’t throw money at — let’s be clear — but it’s something that [requires] outside of the box thinking.”
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, who is just beginning his first term, said that he hadn’t heard much from his constituents regarding unpaved roads except for concerns with school buses.
“I’ve only heard that the school buses cannot go on some of the roads, but that's all I know of,” Bouchat said.
Brown said the department does the best it can to work with the companies, but that there are specific policies to which bus drivers must adhere.
“What they will and will not do with the bus,” he said. “It’s not just gravel but the width, can they turn around. That is a conversation we can have to see if there is anything we can do.”
Not one clear solution
But the solution to problems with unpaved roads — which Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said are oftentimes little more than old cow paths — is not necessarily to schedule more paving projects, Public Works Director Jeff Castonguay said.
“We do have some residents in the county that have made that decision years ago, to live on a gravel road because they wanted to live on a gravel road,” he said.
“In 2014 we had to return some funds because residents on half the road stopped the [paving] project,” Castonguay said, "because they moved there to live on a gravel road, and wanted to continue living on a gravel road.”
Wantz said that he wanted to thank the staff out on the roads doing the work, because he knows they have had to deal with people like in the 2014 case Castonguay mentioned.
Staff have even been challenged by gunpoint, he said.
“That particular incident, I stood there with my mouth open,” Wantz said.
But Brown said even once a road is paved with the support of the residents who live around it, the complaints don’t stop.
“You get asphalt complaints,” he said. “The first complaints we get: people are speeding, traffic has increased, and ‘you didn’t do anything for the road.’
“As soon as someone says people are speeding on the road, people are speeding on turns, ‘you're turning gravel road into a speedway,’ we take those concerns seriously,” Brown said. “We have to get a contractor in to do road painting we didn’t do before, road signage, a guard rail at times.
“Looking at the last three roads,” he said. “That's an additional $10,000 to $20,000 in signage and everything else once we pave a road.”
Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said that his main questions regarding unpaved roads as a newcomer to the board were: What roads are going to be prioritized?
And “what values are we using to prioritize those roads?”
The other commissioners agreed they wanted to see a priority list of roads, and possibly perform a survey in the future to see where residents were opposed to paving.
“I do think we need to have a priority list,” said Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, “so if we have extra money — we might one day — we can look at where to go first.”
Brown said that he and the rest of Public Works staff would get a priority list together.
But seeing as paving roads is not the only solution, Wantz said, more than a priority list is needed.
“While we all know in reality you can’t pave [all] these roads,” Wantz said, “I continue to press staff to find that magic fix, or something on the horizon that somebody is using out there that would alleviate going back every other week and filling potholes.”
He said although he believes Public Works staff has been creative and adaptive to the issues, BOCC and Public Works staff should sit down together to talk more specifically about problem areas and brainstorm solutions.
“I think that will go a long way in attempting to find a solution, and give a better understanding about which of these roads are really costing us money,” said Wantz.
“It’s resources: time people and money,” Rothstein said, “and we have to be willing to put our time toward this. This is a great first step for me, understanding where we are at, and it’s tied into the learning process for where we are going to go next.
“But we aren't going to get there today,” he said. “Having a follow-up session is best.”