Rain creates problem for Cleburne County’s many dirt roads
by Laura Camper
Dec 09, 2013 | 3625 views |  0 comments | 66 66 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bolstered by heavy rain, water pours over Howle and Turner Dam on County Road 36. Photo by Misty Pointer.
Bolstered by heavy rain, water pours over Howle and Turner Dam on County Road 36. Photo by Misty Pointer.
HEFLIN — After the weekend’s rain, water was flowing across County Road 4 when Brent Laminack was leaving for work Monday morning.

“It happens maybe once or twice a year when we have a lot of rain,” Laminack said. “When I was a kid those bottoms stayed flooded all the time.”

The weekend’s heavy rainfall, after a year of wetter-than-normal weather, has led to difficult travel on some of Cleburne County’s hundreds of miles of dirt roads, officials said.

Storms this weekend dumped 4 to 6 inches of rain on northern Cleburne County, according to Roger McNeil, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Calera. In other parts of the county, McNeil said, the totals were more like a half inch to an inch.

McNeil said he expected another half inch in Cleburne County by Tuesday morning and then two to three days of cooler, drier weather which will allow the rain to be absorbed into the soil.

That rain fell toward the end of a year that has seen far more precipitation than normal. As of 6 a.m. Monday, the Anniston Regional Airport had received more than 69 inches of rain this year; the normal amount is about 47 inches. The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport had received just less than 64 inches of rain so far this year, more than the norm of 51 inches, McNeil said.

The rain hasn’t caused much flooding, said Shannon Robbins, Cleburne County engineer. But the rain and the cold weather have wreaked havoc on dirt roads, he said. The county has received five requests for gravel to spread on muddy roads and three or four requests to clear debris from drainage culverts along roads, Robbins said. It also received three calls from residents concerned about high water on bridges, he added.

According to maps from the Alabama Department of Transportation, Cleburne County has 326 miles of dirt roads, Robbins said. Those roads turn muddy when there’s a lot of rain. Gravel can help, or it might not, Robbins said.

“It gets mashed in and a lot of times it gets washed away,” Robbins said. “Often it does help, but in some cases it’s just fighting a losing battle.”

Even if the county had all the gravel it wanted to put on roads — which at $500 to $600 per load it doesn’t — rainy weather followed by freezing temperatures would still cause problems on dirt roads, he said.

“It’s frustrating getting into a cycle like this,” Robbins said.

County Administrator Steve Swafford said paving the roads could be an option but would take a lot of money. The county hasn’t been able to spend that kind of money during his tenure, he said. Swafford said he remembers just two or three gravel roads being paved in the past two decades. Over the same time, he said, a couple of paved roads have been reverted to gravel.

Paving a road isn’t just a matter of laying some asphalt on top of the dirt, Swafford said. Asphalt must have an adequate foundation or it will disintegrate into gravel over a few years. Roads only covered with asphalt won’t last, he said.

The cost of building new roads is prohibitive, Robbins said. Asphalt for a mile of road can cost between $80,000 and $100,000. If the county were paving over a dirt road, it would also have to move any utilities, extend pipes at driveways and intersections, grade, drain and create the road bed. That could cost another $200,000 per mile, Robbins said. In addition, the county doesn’t own the dirt roads, so any right-of-way issues would have to be resolved, Robbins said. On the other hand, the county spends about $45,000 to $75,000 a year on gravel, he said.

Swafford said the issue is money.

“It’s just a question of resources,” Swafford said.

Laminack is lucky. He has another way to get out of his neighborhood. He can take a dirt road which runs behind his house, Laminack said. It’s generally passable when County Road 4 is not, he said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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