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Budget muddies plight to fix county roads

Crawford, bereft of funding, low on options to fix county’s gravel roads

News editor

Waterlogged gravel roads in Marion County soaked up more rain over the weekend, ensuring at least several more days of sloppy road conditions.

County road and bridge supervisor Randy Crawford is as frustrated as anyone else, as the extra rain is another delay as he tries to keep up with 745 miles of soft and muddy roads.

“You can’t grade mud,” Crawford said. “You just make a bigger mess than what we’ve already got. With this overcast, nothing’s drying out. It’s killing us. We can’t do anything when it’s wet and sloppy.”

Crawford is at the mercy of two factors — the weather, which he can’t control, and money, which he doesn’t have enough of.

“It takes 1,000 tons of gravel per mile, at $10 per ton,” Crawford said. That’s $10,000 per mile, not counting fuel and labor costs.

There is $98,000 remaining in the gravel budget for December, barely enough to take care of 10 of the 745 graveled miles. Crawford said it’s questionable whether he can get more funds from commissioners.

“Two weeks ago they asked, ‘What can you do to cut back to have carry-over for January and February?’” Crawford said.

The county turned to the federal government after torrential rains in July raised havoc with the roads.

“We had a million dollars damage last July in the washouts,” Crawford said. “We wound up with $200,000 from FEMA. That’s what we got back out of a million dollars we turned in. That’s $800,000 gone — how do you budget for that?

Many gravel roads no longer have a firm base layer, compounding the problem. Rock erodes faster, and rebuilding the base and layering more gravel on it costs twice as much to repair fully, Crawford said.

“The reality is it’s not good,” he said.

Crawford knows from the volume and intensity of requests that rural residents are frustrated with current conditions.

“I was getting calls Friday night, all day Saturday, even some Sunday,” Crawford said. “What can I do on a Sunday?”

Crawford said he tries to prioritize requests as best he can.

“Mail routes and school bus routes, they get priorty,” Crawford said. “I’ve got a lot of people I have to get home every night, get roads open for ambulance and fire.”

To help with emergency calls, Crawford has given county dispatchers cell phone numbers for each of the 12 motor grader operators spread throughout the county, so that they can clear the way for emergency vehicles.

“We’re going to get someone out there,” Crawford said. “It might take a little longer because of the mud.”

Those grader operators often take the brunt of feedback from frustrated citizens, Crawford said.

“It’s hard on these operators,” Crawford said. “They get stopped and get yelled at and they’re just trying to do their job. That’s what bothers me the most. I’ve got big shoulders, they can say what they want and badmouth me. When they attack the employees, that’s where I’ve got a problem.”

Crawford is reluctantly resigned to trying to make the most out of the current situation, and worried about the continuing degradation of the road system.

“I know we’ve got a hell of a situation on our hands, and the only thing we can do is try to stay on top of it, and sometimes you can’t even do that,” Crawford said. “I don’t know what the solution is going to be. I don’t think anyone knows. It all comes down to one thing, money. And we don’t have it.”

Last modified Dec. 18, 2014

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