Lexington County mulls changes in dirt road paving

tflach@thestate.comJuly 1, 2013 

— Lexington County is looking at changes in the way dirt roads are ranked for paving, a step that could shake up projects pending.

Revisions proposed to County Council would add factors such as safety improvement and reduce maintenance to standards now used such as traffic, population and school bus travel.

It amounts to “reworking the entire formula,” county public works director Wrenn Barrett said.

The changes recommended would be the first overhaul of the way projects are rated in 10 years, a step some council members say is overdue.

“Very few things are done off 10-year-old data,” councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce said.

A review of the condition of all 675 miles of dirt roads is likely before changes are made, council chairman Bill Banning of West Columbia said.

Most of the roads are in the largely rural western and southern parts of the 750-square-mile county.

Requests from residents for paving are pending for half of the dirt road mileage, some for more than a decade.

Half of the top 50 roads awaiting pavement would be pushed back up to another 10 years if the changes suggested by public works officials are adopted.

But council members predict an exemption for those roads from any changes.

“We’ll protect that group,” Banning said. “Those people have waited a long time.”

Currently, about five miles of dirt roads are paved yearly, at an average cost of $400,000 per mile. County officials rely on their share of state gasoline taxes to do it.

The amount paved annually is “like a raindrop in Lake Murray,” county administrator Joe Mergo said. “It’s something, but not much.”

Some council members hope to pave more roads faster through revenue from a one-cent countywide sales tax increase for various projects. The tax hike could go on the ballot next year for voter approval.

Progress in paving some roads has slowed.

Some residents on those roads are refusing to provide frontage needed, concerned that paving threatens rural lifestyle and invites more traffic.

That is “the big drawback” in finishing work on a third of the top 25 roads in the next two years, Barrett said.

Those problems underscore the need to update ranking methods, Banning said.

The changes suggested are the start of a reassessment that could take months to settle, council members said.

“It’ll take time to pull all these things together,” Banning said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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