Unpaved roads concern citizens

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By John Barnhart

The county's unpaved roads were the primary concern of citizens who spoke at a public hearing, Monday night, on the six year plan for secondary roads.

According to Bob Sutton, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) residency administrator for Bedford County, there are 250 miles of unpaved roads in the county; 150 of these roads qualify for paving. More than 50 vehicles must go over a road each day in order for it to qualify.

David Powers, who lives off Va. 635, said that there are 26 houses on this one mile unpaved road. There is a new subdivision planned there.

"With all the development going on up there, we think it needs to be addressed," he said.

Bobby Bowling spoke of another segment of unpaved road, Va. 755, that is .3 miles long and hosts a Woodmen of the World facility. Bowling said that, when there is an event there, 500 vehicles will kick up dust as they go down the road.

"I think that something really needs to be done," he said.

Fred Westfield, who lives off Va. 780, said that that road is also dusty, and can be hard to travel on because of its poor condition. He said that his church has lost members because people can't travel on the road.

"People have been paying tax money on that road for years and nothing was done about it," he said. "The people in that area have been treated differently."

Gerald Martin called for Va. 781 to be paved. He said that residents have been asking for this since 1983. They signed a petition in 1993, and, in 1996, donated land for a 50-foot right of way and granted drainage easements.

"We want a road that is adequate to handle the traffic," he said.

The problem is money.

Sutton said that state funds dwindled after 2000. It's gotten better, but there is only enough money to target between $200,000 and $300,000 per year. This doesn't go very far. Sutton said that it costs $200,000 per mile to pave a road, assuming it isn't being widened. He said that paving unpaved roads must be balanced with other secondary road needs that include bridges that school buses and emergency vehicles can't cross.

District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler pulled out a calculator and said that, at that rate, it will take 62 years to pave all the unpaved roads that qualify.

"There is no money to do anything," commented District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington. "There is just nothing there to speak of."

Wheeler notes that there are multiple pots of road money and the county has no input on some of this. The only input the board of supervisors has is on the six year plan for secondary roads. The supervisors prioritize the list.

"It's like watching grass grow or paint dry," Wheeler said, describing the process of waiting for these projects to get done.

Board Chairman Chuck Neudorfer noted that it's called a six year plan, but there is no guarantee that the work will get done in six years.

County real estate taxes do not go into this pot. It's strictly state money. The only local money that goes into roads is under the state's revenue sharing plan in which the state and a county split the cost of a project. There is a limited amount available for this each year and the state prioritizes the requests it receives from counties.

District 6 Supervisor Andy Dooley suggested that a one cent increase in the real estate tax rate would produce $700,000 that could be used for unpaved roads in the county. He also suggested that this proposal could be put to the voters via a referendum.