'End of the road' for some county routes
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Could some of Sullivan County’s paved roads go back to dirt?
Likely not, but it’s a topic under consideration in county government.
At a recent County Legislature meeting, Division of Public Works (DPW) representatives told legislators that 71 miles of county routes have reached “terminal serviceability” the end of their design life.
While that doesn’t mean roads will be closed, it does mean the travelling public can expect more potholes and cracks along the roads signed with that familiar gold-and-blue lettering.
And some of those potholes and cracks may go unrepaired next spring, since such work would require about $12 million, more than three times the amount currently being spent on the county’s roads.
And that’s just for next year. DPW projections indicate 128 miles of roads will be in poor condition by 2013, requiring $25 million in repaving alone.
Though rising oil and materials costs have taken a huge bite out of the DPW’s funds, Legislator Leni Binder reiterated her contention that the former Board of Supervisors put the county in this bind when they shifted town costs to the county by designating various town roads as county routes.
“The supervisors balanced their [town] budgets on the back of the county,” she recalled.
Today, Sullivan County maintains 387 miles of roadway, including a variety of routes it contracts with the townships to sand, salt and plow in the winter.
According to County Manager David Fanslau, the county does not have the cash on hand to expand the road maintenance fund at least not without short-term financing.
So Binder and Legislature Vice Chair Ron Hiatt wondered if it might not be more cost-effective to revert some of those roads back to gravel/dirt.
DPW Commissioner Bob Meyer acknowledged that maintenance costs are generally lower on gravel roads as opposed to their asphalt-paved counterparts, even though maintenance tends to be more frequent.
Fanslau, however, reminded legislators that bridges, not roadways, carry the higher expense.
“I can’t imagine in this economic environment that any supervisor is going to say to us, ‘Yeah, we’ll take these bridges back,’” mused Legislator Kathy LaBuda.
But “there are a lot of roads that are less trafficked,” noted Hiatt, wondering if they could be “depaved.”
DPW officials, however, didn’t think traffic counts were low enough on county roads to safely justify reverting them back to gravel/dirt.
Neither did Legislator David Sager.
“I don’t think you can do that with our county roads,” he said. “They’re too highly traveled.”
But he was agreeable to the idea that townships consider not repaving some of their roads, a thought echoed by several legislators.
However, the towns have control over town roads, so Hiatt suggested the county DPW work with town highway superintendents and supervisors to determine where costs could be cut on road maintenance.
Fanslau warned, though, that especially in an election year, town officials may not welcome the county’s suggestions, fearing a backlash from those constituents whose road might lose its pavement.