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County's dirt roads hit by drought

Sep 9, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

It's not purely a financial matter exacerbating the deteriorating dirt-road con`ditions around Fremont County.

"The issue is that we've not had any rain at all pretty much all this year," said Dave Pendleton, Fremont County government's transportation department superintendent.

"We may have had a few scattered sprinkles here and there, but we have not had a normal spring to help us bind our roads together and that moisture that is in the road has been steadily leaving the road all summer," Pendleton said.

The result is compacted dirt roads in parts of the county government system are turning into powder.

"There are quite a few places in the county where we've had blowouts on the road where traffic has beat through the crust and it's turned to powder," Pendleton said.

"People complain about the roughness of the roadways," he said. "There's not a whole lot we can do about it until we get some moisture."

Water is a critical component of maintaining dirt roads because it binds upper layers together to support the weight of heavy, fast-moving vehicles.

Simply using a water tanker to spray the roads "isn't feasible," Pendleton said.

"We have 750 miles of gravel and dirt roadways throughout the county. The situation in a drought is, Where are you going to get the water?" he said.

In addition to limited sources of getting water, there's the associated financial component.

"If we were to get water from someplace, you have the huge expense of hauling," Pendleton said. "Our department was cut $400,000 this year."

His department also faces limitations on using gravel to add to the deteriorating roads's top layers.

"First off, we've got to have it in our budget before we can purchase those materials. Secondly, you've got to have moisture. If you just go place gravel on a road, you just have dry gravel," Pendleton said.

"You need to bind everything together to create a hard crust," he said.

Although the county uses magnesium chloride on some roads as part of routine maintenance, limitations exist that prevent its application to enhance conditions, Pendleton said.

"Budgetary-wise, we weren't able to do a lot with mag chloride this spring like we normally do. And if we don't get moisture this fall we won't be able to do much with mag chloride either," he said.

"If we don't have water in the underlying materials we'll just be wasting our materials," he added.

"To be able to draw the mag chloride in and make it a good road, you need to have water and material and that will draw the salt down into the roadway. ... Otherwise if you don't have any moisture, you're just spraying the surface and that's where it stays," he said.

Using heavy-duty blading equipment to smooth out the road will destroy the surface without any moisture, Pendleton said.

"If we get down through the crust, the effect is the road will powder out and we could be out there on a daily basis blading the road and it still won't stay smooth. We really want to keep the crust there," he said.

Pendleton is asking motorists on the county-maintained dirt roads to be patients. "We are doing what we can where we can. Hopefully we'll get some moisture this fall that we can address things back up and make the roads passable again," he said.

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