The Bitterroot has a lot of rough roads. Some of them could be getting rougher if the county commissioners go through with a plan to get rid of some pavement.
The problem has been jolting the county for years. How to maintain hundreds of miles of paved roads with limited funds. Now, the county is looking to "de-pave" some roads in the Northern Bitterroot.
"At seven miles a year what we're paving plus another couple miles on the outside, we're falling way behind," Road and Bridge Administrator John Horat told commissioners last week.
"And so we should be doing 15 miles of roads a year to keep them on a schedule or track to be replaced every 20 years. And we're only doing about five to six miles a year," County Commissioner Greg Chilcott explains.
The county has more than 300 miles of roads.
While some of the roads, like Lower Woodchuck, are more remote, some of the busted roads on the list are right in the middle of neighborhoods with more homes, catching residents off-guard.
"With really no advance notice, we had little opportunity to attend the meeting and to add our input," said Florence resident Rene Foehl, who lives on one of the roads on the de-paving list.
"This is the entry to a small development of, as you said, about 30 homes and we're going to be inhaling lots of dust all summer. There's a lot of traffic with 30 homes and this is the only way in and the only way out. Not to mention the noise, the wear and tear in the car, and there's lots of people on foot that like to ride bicycles and walk along this road and if it gets washboarded that will be a lot more difficult." - Florence resident Rene Foehl
No final decisions have been made. But the process has been used before.
"We grind or pulverize the asphalt up and mix it with gravel and re-lay it. And then we follow that up with magnesium chloride application," Chilcott explained.
Some at the hearing worry about the environmental impact and limited effectiveness of mag-chloride in controlling dust. And this isn't a new problem either. Commissioners say the county has been struggling with road funding ever since timber tax revenues began to dry up in the 1990s.
"We, years ago, had 25% of the revenue generated off the National Forest that came into the county and two-thirds of that went directly into the Road and Bridge Department and one-third went to education," Chilcott said. "Well, we have stopped producing revenue off of our national forests, and that's directly impacted the service delivery we can provide for our roads."
"This is something we don't want to do. But we're in a position where to provide for the public health, safety, and welfare of our citizens we have to consider all the options," Chilcott concluded.
Foehl would be happy to just leave things as they are, even if the road isn't perfect, " right now we'd be happy keeping the asphalt and just having it patched occasionally."