Many road miles, too few people add to roads issue

? Tax revenues are insufficient for solution.

Recent slow rains and melting snows have revealed the weakness of road infrastructure in Marion County.

County residents, upset with the situation, have been calling county commissioners for an explanation.

Marion County Commis?sioner Dan Holub said a significant issue is that a declining population is making increasingly harder to generate sufficient tax revenue to maintain the expanse of rural roads.

Holub the other two commissioners would not necessarily agree with everything he said, but would acknow?ledge the same general situation.

Holub said several factors play into the current situation:

? much of the rural roads and bridges infrastructure in the county dates back to the 1930s or before.

? the county population that provides the revenue for road maintenance is now about half what it was in the 1950s.

? modern semi-trucks and much heavier farm machinery are rolling over bridges and road surfaces that originally were designed for the traffic and much lighter equipment that existed in the previous century. Some roads even were built with horses and wagons in mind.

The size of the county system road system is nearly mind-boggling when you realize that a population of fewer than 15,000 is responsible to maintain it.

?There is approximately 1,600 miles of roads in the county,? Holub said. ?If laid end to end they would reach San Diego, Calif. ?There are over 300 bridges in the county. There are well over a thousand culverts and bridge-type structures.

Holub said the county?s road and bridge department must maintain all of this with an annual budget of about $4.5 million.

The department has 34 employees, including two secretaries. It?s fleet of 13 road-grader operators must blade an average 130 miles of road, two ways, at 3 mph.

In some cases, the county commission has allowed farmers?who must use dirt roads for field access or livestock?permission to gate off roads in order to restrict access to vandals who tear up roads through recreational ?mudding?? which is driving four-wheel-drive pickups on ungraveled roads that turn to mud with measurable precipitation.

Holub invited neighbors to offer opinions on road closings. He could recall only one incident when the commissioners closed a road without public request because a bridge on it was unsafe for use, Even farmers must now bypass it.

?We are replacing span bridges where we can with culverts, concrete boxes or railroad tank cars that have been cut down to make oversize, extremely strong culverts,? Holub said. ?That?s affordable and safe.

?Large culverts, concrete boxes and railroad tanks do not require high-dollar engineering studies (like bridges do). There are a few places due to depth and width of river channel where this is not an option. It?s not an option for emergency services.?

Holub said one location east of Florence had only three home sites, but commissioners had to build a bridge to avoid the residents traveling 15 to 20 miles to reach U.S. Highway 50, He cited that case as an example of a decision made on a case-by-case basis.

?I think I can speak for the commission when I say we have no intention of arbitrarily closing roads,? Holub said.

To further illustrate the magnitude of the situation, Holub said the county has 132 miles of hard-surfaced roads.

?Two-inch asphalt overlay costs $120,000 per mile ($15,840,000 total). Blade patch is $70,000 a mile. To do all is $9,240,000.

?Chip seal is $27,500 per mile, and to do all is $3,630,000. The first time a road is chip sealed, a double chip seal is used (so) just double the numbers for the total.

?To gravel one mile of the 745 graveled roads costs $16,000, and to do all roads is $11,920,000. ?

Holub said the prices he used were based on 2013 rates, and are likely to go up in the future.

Adding to all of this, Holub said, ?to haul gravel from the current quarry to outer parts of the county requires up to two hours of drive time. To hard surface roads, people have to be taken off other duties.?

The road and bridge workload won?t ease going into winter. Holub warned that ?snow removal involves the same distance and time issues.?

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