Terry Gilbert of Alma, along with more than a dozen of his neighbors, addressed the commissioners court last week about road conditions in Pct. 2.

“Our roads are very, very bad,” Gilbert said. “And we need your help.”

Like Gilbert, Peter Stuart, Peggy Ray and Rhonda Collins all spoke out against the roads in Alma, noting numerous incidents in which the pavement’s condition have caused problems.

Stuart recalled when he had to help a young driver.

“I was following a pickup down the road and we came across a girl who had gotten her little Chevy car high-centered,” Stuart said. “She was going so slow because of the potholes she got stuck.”

Collins expressed her concerns because emergency service vehicles are impeded from getting to houses quickly and said if the roads get much worse, school buses will no longer offer service to her and her neighbor’s homes.

“Alma has not attempted to work on the roads in several years,” Collins said, saying she’s working on a petition to get the city to dis-annex their roads back to the county.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Bill Dodson noted that while not all of the speakers’ roads were the county’s responsibility, their poor condition was indicative of county roads throughout his jurisdiction.

“Probably 50 percent of the roads (in Pct. 2) will need to be reclaimed, and all of them need pothole work,” the commissioner said in a later interview.

Some of the damage was at least partially caused by heavy use, one resident said, singling out County Thunder USA as being “a monster” on the roads.

“They’re good people. They’re just doing bad things to the roads,” James Down said, noting County Thunder’s not the only reason for the poor conditions of the roads near Avalon.

Part of the reason the roads are in poor condition is that they were chip-sealed from eight to 10 years ago with a minimal road base, Dodson said, saying the chip seal has since failed due to age. As a result, moisture has penetrated to the base material.

The prolonged drought caused the roads to crack, with the cracks worsened by freezing rains and ice this past winter. Those gaps then allowed this year’s nearly continuous and heavy rains to seep into the road base, causing further destruction to the road.

However, this is not the entire story, Dodson said.

The road ditches have not been maintained in years and have filled in as a result. With the ditches full, the water runs down the road instead, allowing even more water to seep into the foundations and resulting in even more damage when traveled by vehicles, particularly heavy trucks.

Like Pct. 2, Commissioner Heath Sims’ Pct. 3 has suffered significant damage recently due to flooding.

Inclement weather damaged several bridges, roads and soil conservation lakes in his Pct., resulting in nearly $500,000 in damages, Sims said, noting $350,000 of that is in roads and bridges.

Needing budget increases

While damages to Dodson’s roads were more extensive (about $450,000 worth), both precincts face difficulties in making the necessary repairs.

During recent county budget hearings, the commissioners requested their budgets be increased so that they can repair the damage.

Both Sims and Dodson noted increases in the costs of materials have far outstripped the increases in their budgets the past several years.

“Our budget has increased 10.4 percent, but material costs have shot up an average of 71 percent,” Sims said.

Dodson said equipment costs, such as the new motor grader he had to buy shortly after taking office to replace the inoperable one his predecessor left behind, have risen 46 percent since 2000, fuel is up 164 percent and flex base has shot up 64 percent.

Dodson has proposed the following steps to undertake a repair program:

Use road counts to determine priority roads that will be reclaimed and chip sealed. Reclaim chip sealed roads that do not have sufficient road base material and convert to gravel and add base material to the roads with sufficient traffic to justify chip sealing at a later date Implement fogging onto existing chip seal roads to prevent water penetration. Look outside the box for new techniques to renovate rural roads, such as alternative base stabilization and treatment methods. Immediately start cleaning road ditches to eliminate water penetrating the base material

However, the process of cleaning out all the road ditches in Pct. 2 could take three to five years, Dodson said, noting there is only so much he can do in a certain timeframe based upon the amount of time needed per job, the amount of available equipment he can use and the number of employees he has working.

Divvying up the pot

In addition to asking for additional funds for the repairs, both commissioners called for a re-examination of how the county’s road and bridge dollars are split among the four precincts.

In an interview, Dodson said road and bridge budgets are nearly evenly split, with Pcts. 1 and 4 each receiving 24 percent of the budget and Pcts. 2 and 3 each receiving 26 percent.

Although all of the precincts have roughly the same population (ranging from 27,549 in Pct. 1 to 28,036 in Pct. 3), Pcts. 2 and 3 by far have the lion’s share of the county’s roads, bridges and soil conservation lakes.

Pct. 2 contains 314 miles of county road, Pct. 3 has 272 miles and each has about a third of county’s bridges.

Pcts. 1 and 4 have 352 miles of road and about one-third of the county’s bridges combined.

Traffic counts on Pcts. 1 and 4 are on average considerably higher than those in Pcts. 2 and 3, which reflects their more dense populations and proximity to the Metroplex.

Located in the northern areas of the county, Pcts. 1 and 4 include 258 total square miles, 198 of which are unincorporated.

Pcts. 2 and 3 have a combined 693 square miles, 611 of which are unincorporated.

Residents and commuters from other areas of the county travel through Pcts. 1 and 3 to get to their jobs, while traffic in the more rural Pcts. 2 and 3 consists of less commuter through-traffic.

In 2007, Pcts. 1 and 4 budgeted an average of $8,456.80 per mile of road ($8,653.30 and $8,260.29, respectively), while Pcts. 2 and 3 budgeted an average of $5,723.21 per mile ($5,317.19 and $6,129.22, respectively).

This does not reflect property values and the taxes of a particular area, as Pct. 4 has the highest total, net taxable and adjusted taxable property values in the county, followed by Pcts. 3, 2, and 1.

In the final hour of the budget hearings, County Judge Chad Adams said the county should look at undertaking an engineering study of the roads county-wide, examine how road funds were and are being spent and then perhaps consider a possible road bond issue to address needs.

During the hearings, Adams said the county’s departments requested about $4.6 million in additional expenditures for the coming fiscal year.

He said the county should pare those requests down to about $2 million, because with an additional $2.5 million in tax revenues, the county could then lower taxes.

Commenting later, one Pct. 2 and Bardwell resident said he would rather pay an extra $60 a year in taxes than $600 on new tires and suspension repairs for his truck.

E-mail Anthony at Anthony.Trojan @waxahachiedailylight.com