COLUMBIA, SC — By October, contractors should be paving the first of potentially hundreds of short stretches of dirt roads in Richland County using alternative methods that would allow more roads to be paved more cheaply.
County officials are starting with $4.2 million to pave 45 roads most of them dead-end roads less than a half-mile long.
Altogether, the county plans to pave 8.25 miles at $500,000 a mile.
At least 10 roads will be paved this fall, county engineer Ismail Ozbek said. The planned projects are scattered across unincorporated Richland County.
All property owners along each of the affected lanes must agree to provide the land, or right-of-way, to ensure roads are at least 18 feet wide and to add drainage ditches on each side.
Relaxing standards for the roads used by a limited number of people, as some other S.C. county governments have done, gives Richland County a new way to address an estimated 153 miles of the countys 225 miles of dirt roads.
Since 2009, council members Norman Jackson and Kelvin Washington have pushed for new dirt-road standards to address roads used by few people roads that, otherwise, would not be considered for paving anytime soon. For years, the county has scraped them and put down gravel to keep them passable for residents, ambulances, mail carriers, school buses and firetrucks.
It would be nice to have a paved road, said Arturo Rodriguez, 41, who owns one of the seven homes along Wilson Farm Road in Lower Richland.
Rodriguez said his children cant ride their bikes or scooters in the road, and some friends wont come visit because theyre afraid theyll damage their cars.
At least it will cut the cost down in terms of realignment, he said. Im pretty meticulous on my vehicles. Ive got a Harley Davidson, try to keep it clean.
The new standards allow more narrow lanes covered with alternative materials that result in thinner surfaces. The lifespan of the road isnt as long, about 10 years compared to 15 years for a traditional road surface, county officials have said.
Both Jackson and Washington have experience in roads and transportation. Each represents parts of Lower Richland, and both sit on a special County Council dirt-road committee recently formed to get the project going.
Now were finally moving forward, Jackson said last week.
This constant rain weve been having, Ive had so many calls about roads that people cant drive on.
The 45 roads will be paved using $3.3 million in state gas-tax money, representing about three years worth of Richland Countys funding. The remainder, $900,000, came from the countys drainage and maintenance fund.
Last week, members of the dirt-road committee told county officials to go ahead and negotiate a contract with a consultant who will meet with residents to explain details of the program.
The consultant, Clarence Hill of J.B. Ladner and Associates, will be responsible for convincing residents to provide rights-of-way for all the countys dirt-road paving projects, including those to be paved under the new transportation sales tax.
The county has not yet begun to receive money from the local sales tax, approved by voters in November and collected since May.
The countys public works department, working with a team led by Civil Engineering Consulting Services, selected the 45 roads to be included in the alternative dirt-road paving program. The order reflects how many people live along a road as well as whether theres a church or business.
They also are spread around the county by council district, though none are within the city limits. The largest number of the dirt roads eligible for the alternative dirt-road paving are in Lower Richland County, Hammett said.
To be eligible, they must not connect with a main road and they must carry 400 or fewer cars each day. That means they are used by local residents only.
For the first 10 projects, Ozbek said he selected roads that had no environmental issues, those that are shovel ready and quick, so that we can show some progress.
The initiative has been in the works even before voters approved a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for transportation improvements in November.
If every road eligible for alternative road-paving were to use the cheaper standards, that would leave 72 miles to pave with conventional methods and standards. County Council set aside $45 million for dirt-road paving in the penny sales-tax plan still short of the money required to pave all of them.
Hammett said alternative paving costs an estimated $500,000 a mile compared with $700,000 a mile for conventional paving.
Its hard to know how common such programs might be. The S.C. Association of Counties did not have any data on such programs. Neither did the S.C. Department of Transportation. Efforts to reach national and local trade groups for general contractors and road builders were unsuccessful.
But one of the countys consultants, Andy Tolleson, president of Tolleson Engineering and Planning Consultants, said alternative road-paving programs have become more accepted.
It really is not unconventional, he added. The standards have probably been in place for 30 years.
Tolleson said special standards for low-volume roads allow counties to pave for less, cut maintenance costs, maintain the character of rural areas and ensure emergency vehicles can use the road.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.