Gravel not a good option for county

Published 2:07 pm Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The county’s road infrastructure is falling apart. Recent heavy rains and hard freezes have only hastened the decay of rural roads across the county. Potholes are appearing daily. Asphalt is crumbling. Road conditions are deteriorating to the point where drivers are literally taking their lives in hand.

During Thursday’s workshop meeting, Engineer Dennis McCall agreed with Commissioner Lynn Harold Watson’s assessment that many of the county’s roads might have to be downgraded to gravel within a five-year period if money is not found to repair them. That’s a scary thought. Consider some hazards of driving on gravel:

– Drivers must be more cautious because of the loose stone, and it is easier to lose control of the automobile.

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– Stones can skip and chip paint and windshields.

– There’s a greater amount of tire wear.

– Dust from the road can cause visibility issues.

– Stones can puncture tires and even an automobile’s fuel tank, especially on low-riding cars.

– Mud after heavy rain is particularly dangerous and can cause vehicles to skid.

– Larger vehicles – like school buses or trucks – must exercise increased caution in rain. And that’s if the road is even passable during or after a heavy rainstorm.

To prevent this, Watson advocates a half-cent sales tax increase. Commissioner Jerry Hartin, whose district encompasses a bulk of the county’s rural roads, said he would like to see a one-cent increase. Watson said he didn’t want the issue put to a vote of the people, because no one is willing to vote for a tax increase. He would prefer the commission push the legislation through Montgomery, regardless of such a moves political implications.

First, Watson’s willingness to “fall on the sword” – politically speaking – to correct a big problem is admirable. But we’re not sure if a sales tax increase, especially considering the current economic climate, would be a wise choice. If the commission decides to pursue this option, then every consideration should be given for allowing the people to vote on the matter. The commission should also try to work with Sen. Wendell Mitchell, Rep. Charles Newton, and its own Association to ensure Alabama’s rural counties are being heard in Montgomery and that legislators understand the severity of the problem.