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Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is RCox@cherryroad.com.

Opinion

Water, water everywhere

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

I don’t get out on county roads that much.

I usually prefer to stick to pavement, and — despite the driveway where I live and parking lot where I work — gravel just doesn’t do it for me. It’s bumpy, dusty and makes weird noises in my wheel wells when my tires kick up a rock or three.

All this rain doesn’t help.

Sure, it keeps the dust down and provides a bit of relief for those afflicted with seasonal allergies, but all the runoff creates havoc for the county road department.

Bridges get washed out, debris piles up and, in some places, parts of the road just disappear.

There’s a spot like that not too far from where I live. When you turn off the pavement, the road immediately dips into a creek. It’s not a wide creek or particularly deep — at least most of the time — but there’s no bridge and you’re driving through moving water.

Just past that spot, there’s a chunk of road missing, as if some monster with a taste for clay and gravel instead of cookies just took a big bite.

It doesn’t get much better the farther you go.

In the interest of full disclosure, I saw all this from the passenger side of a friend’s pickup on the way to a another friend’s house for ribs and video games. There’s no way I’d take my car that way unless it was absolutely necessary. I mean, the ribs were good and all, but not good enough to risk me ending up with my car bottomed out in a creek or on its side in a ditch.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve visited several times with Ronda Griffin, Carroll County’s interim county judge, along with a few local residents, and learned that this isn’t really an isolated thing. Unpaved roads are in bad shape across the county.

“We got hit pretty hard,” Griffin said after a storm a couple weeks ago, one that led to the death of Green Forest author Lin Wellford, whose car was swept off a low-water bridge at the intersection of county roads 705 and 741 on April 13. “Southern Carroll County got the worst of it. A lot of that flows from Newton County. We have a lot of damage.”

Most significant was the loss of Clearwater Bridge on CR 705 — not the same bridge where the fatal accident occurred.

“Almost all of our bridges in that area had debris and then the roads up to the bridges are really messy and nasty.”

Late last month, Griffin said she’d hoped to receive some federal funds to aid in replacing the Clearwater Bridge but was denied.

“I’m working on trying to get a grant from another direction,” Griffin said, “but that may have to come out of my budget. I’m still working on that, trying to secure some money so we can get that road opened back up.”

Some of the problems with county roads this spring can be directly traced to the amount of rain we’ve received. According to the National Weather Service, Carroll County typically receives an average of 4.87 inches of precipitation during the month of April. This year, that amount nearly doubled, topping 9.3 inches.

The rain has not only caused damage, but it’s also slowed repairs.

“ I know a lot of folks are upset that we’ve not been grading all the roads as quickly as they want us to,” Griffin said. “I didn’t realize how much we had to clean the creeks out and get all that debris removed. That’s really the priority right now, making sure the that the water will continue to flow and doesn’t back up and damage the bridges.”

Another chunk of causation lies with a personnel shortage at the road department, coupled with rising costs of materials and fuel. Griffin said that during the first quarter of 2021, fuel costs reached approximately $60,000. This year, that total was nearly three times higher. Coupled with rising costs for culverts and other necessary items and fewer hands to do the work, it becomes apparent that patience is the key.

“We’re still shorthanded and we’re doing the best that we can,” Griffin said. “We just have to prioritize.”

In the meantime, all we can do is keep an eye on the weather.

“I keep watching the weather,” Griffin said. “It just keeps showing rain.”

Hopefully, it won’t be that way for long. Like the man said, “It can’t rain all the time.”