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Washington County Commissioners look at the good, the bad and the ugly during road tour

July 10, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Public Works Director Joe Kroboth, second from right, talks with Washington County Commissioners Jeff Cline, right, Bill McKinley, center, and Ruth Anne Calaham, left durinng a bus tour of county roads Tuesday.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

On a Tuesday morning tour of roads in southern Washington County, the Washington County Board of Commissioners’ attention was directed at two roads they were told might need to be closed as a safety measure.

Washington County Public Works Director Joe Kroboth told the commissioners that Back Road, which runs along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, is on a failing slope with poor soils supporting it. He said Limekiln Road, also on a slope above the C&O Canal, has pavement problems, is very narrow and has a sharp drop-off of 80 to 120 feet. 

Both roads are sliding into the canal, Kroboth said.

“This creates a safety problem that, in the middle of the night, if someone were to drive down one of the roads and the road had sunken 3 or 4 feet and they didn’t know it, they could quickly crash their vehicle and roll down over the slope,” Kroboth said. “It may not be beneficial for the county to invest the amount of money it would take to completely rebuild those roads.”

Other options could be to make them one-way roads, to have them closed except for emergency vehicles and utility companies, or to reconstruct the road, a choice that Kroboth said could be very expensive.

“That’s a difficult decision,” Washington County Commissioner Jeffrey Cline said. “I’d like to hear from the residents on that.”

In addition to Kroboth, the commissioners were accompanied on the van tour by Washington County Administrator Greg Murray and Washington County Highway Department Director Ed Plank. Officials said the point of the tour was to let the commissioners visually inspect the two roads that could pose a danger. They also traveled on roads that have had chip-seal applications as a preventative maintenance measure and learned of drainage issues related to county roads.
 
“It’s much better to understand what the issues and the problems with infrastructure are if you can see them firsthand,” Kroboth said. “Oftentimes, complaints come into the county commissioners, so if I can help to provide information to the commissioners so they can answer the questions of their constituents, it’ll resolve those complaints and concerns quicker.”

The tour included Sharpsburg Pike (Md. 65), Poffenberger Road, U.S. 40 Alt., Mill Point Road, Wheeler Road, Porterstown Road, Shepherdstown Pike (Md. 34), Mills Road, Harpers Ferry Road, Mount Briar Road, Burnside Bridge Road, Back Road and Limekiln Road. 

Washington County Commissioner John Barr said he found the trip to be informative.

“We saw some of the roadways actually deteriorating to a point that were very unsafe,” he said. “Not having traveled them on a regular basis, you just don’t have the opportunity to see them every day.”

They stopped at a piece of property to discuss certain issues dealing with drainage about which the property owner complained. Kroboth said a meeting is planned with the owner early next week to gain a better understanding of his concerns and to see what the county’s obligations are.

The van also went over roads with chip seal as opposed to traditional asphalt. Chip seal combines a layer of asphalt and stone for paving, and according to a packet Kroboth gave to the commissioners, costs about $24,700 per mile as opposed to the $106,775 per mile cost of hot mix asphalt patch and overlay or a reconstruction cost of $259,000 per mile.

Chip-seal has been recommended by Public Works for use on rural roadways not within a subdivision, with traffic volumes of fewer than 2,500 vehicles per day and with posted speed limits lower than 40 mph.

“It’s the right type of treatment in the rural parts of the county,” Kroboth said. “Our goal is to touch these roads every five to seven years.”

Cline said he was interested in the chip-seal portion of the tour.

“In consideration of the loss of funding from the state for our transportation for our roads to be repaired, that is a good alternative,” Cline said. “Comparing recently chip and sealed roads to roads that were chip and sealed a few years ago, it’s very hard to detect a difference between them and the roads that were actually paved with tar.”

The commissioners looked at the intersection of Harpers Ferry and Mills roads along with the two roads considered for closure.

During an earlier  stop, Murray told a reporter who was along for the ride that the commissioners taking the tour posed no problem even though the public was unable to participate.

“Today is just a sightseeing, windshield type tour,” he said. “No decisions will be made on what they will be able to do with the issues they see that need addressed.”

Plank said the tour was important so the commissioners could understand how serious the conditions of some of the roads are.
 
“We have numerous roads that are in very serious need of repairs,” he said. “We have concerns for safety issues and road concerns that we wanted the commissioners to view, and that was the main purpose of our trip down south today.”

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