Some Ohio Roads Revert To Gravel Surfaces.

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Mid-July is peak paving season in Ohio. Most road crews are laying asphalt or pouring concrete. But in Coshocton County, on some roads less traveled, the county engineer allows some formerly paved roads to return to gravel surfaces. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding reports the return of some gravel roads is a response to declining revenues for road repairs.

“I could just list off a lot of roads that really need some tender care for them.”

John Lawrence has lived in Coshocton county for 20 years. He says some of the two-lane county and township roads that criss-cross the rolling hills and reclaimed coal strip mines are getting worse. Worse to the point that he avoids them.

“I just don’t really want to put my truck in the road, or drive down the road and literally take the chance of losing my axle because my tire goes into that pothole and just bust my whole axle up. I just refuse to drive on some roads.”

Lawrence’s complaints, and others like them are familiar to Coshocton county engineer, Fred Wachtel.

“We have a lot of people who like to suggest where we spend our money.”

Since 1993, Wachtel has been in charge of maintaining 350 miles of county roads. He has a $5,000,000 annual budget. About $1.200,000 is spent each year on re-surfacing projects. Last year, the economic downturn reached his office.

“In 2009, that was the first year since I’ve been in office that our revenue has actually declined from previous years. Every other year we’d ramped up a little bit. We saw the dollars, our revenue drop. We budgeted this year’s revenue based upon our 2007 revenues.”

To get a first-hand look at the consequences of shrinking revenue. We drove to a section of county road 4. It bisects a reclaimed strip coal mine.

Borgerding Q: ” We’ve just passed a section of the road that has reverted, I guess, is as good a word as any to gravel. Tell me, Mr. Wachtel what happened here?

Wachtel: “This road was paved in the mid 90s. We have areas that just have a lot of shade issues, base issues and that. And just over time the asphalt has a tendency to deteriorate because of those conditions and we’re not in a position to expend a lot of resources to come in and make a good permanent fix so we end up bridging it over in gravel to keep it passable for the folks who use the road.”

A couple of miles to the southwest, we arrive at a section of county road 436. Its in even worse shape.

“We are maintaining it and keeping it drivable, passable, but its going back more into the gravel state than the hard surface state.

Wachtel says 90 percent of his $5,000,000 annual budget comes from gasoline taxes and vehicle registrations. Since the autumn of 2008, he says, gas sales have declined and county residents, he’s noticed, are taking some vehicles out of service. Purdue University’s John Habermann says Coshocton county’s response to lower revenues is part of trend in the Midwest and Plains states.

“When the funds decrease your maintenance of the road starts getting stretched. And pretty soon you don’t ever get out or get to a road to maintain and it starts to deteriorate. And then sometimes in the industry we call it a point of no return.” Says Habermann.

Wachtel says none of the roads in Coshocton county have reached that point of no return. Still, longtime Coshocton resident Deanna Frazer says the condition of some of the roads leaves her muttering to herself when she’s behind the wheel.

“You know, I drive down the roads and go ooh I wish somebody would do something to this thing.”

Tom Borgerding WOSU News