AIKEN - Brian Carter will likely stay home most of the weekend for the sake of his car's front bumper.
Three weeks ago, the combination of rainfall and an unseen hole on a dirt road caused Carter to crash, damaging the front end of his vehicle. The Salley resident lives on Millwood Drive, a dirt road deemed one of the worst in Aiken County. "There was a 14-inch hole that was full of water, so I busted up my fender," Carter said. "The roads are just getting worse with all the weather, and they can't do anything about them for days after rain."
Aiken County Council approved lifting its hiring freeze Tuesday to bring on five employees to deal with the road conditions that impede those traveling on the 700 miles of dirt roads in Aiken County.
District 1 Councilwoman Kathy Rawls, whose district accounts for more than 75 percent of the dirt roads, had requested the positions be filled for several months because of residents and school bus drivers complaining of virtually impassable roads. The hiring process, however, is expected to take weeks and it will be months before Aiken County Public Works can get caught up with road maintenance.
"The roads had just been washed out, and we still have elevation problems because of ditches on the roads," she said. "Sometimes, unless it's a truck, you just can't get through."
December set the record for precipitation in Aiken County, with 8.97 inches for the month, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Schuetrum said. The average is 3.4 inches for that month. January also saw above-average precipitation, with 5.39 inches reported for the month. The average is 4.5 inches.
Once it rains, Public Works staff must wait a few days for the roads to dry in order to clear the mud and ditches with a motor grader, said John Dyches, acting director of the department. Workers also use gravel to fill in holes along the dirt roads, he said. The three additional equipment operators and two employees in road rebuilding will be a great help to his department, Dyches said. Several seasoned workers retired in March just months before the hiring freeze was implemented, Dyches said.
"This is the worst I've witnessed since I've been here," he said. "Many people are seeing standing water where they haven't before."
The days without road service are difficult for rural residents, Carter said. He has lived on Millwood Drive for 10 years, and said the state of the road should lead to it being paved. "They say the money's there, but nothing's being done," he said. "My biggest fear is that someone's going to end up dying waiting for an ambulance that's trying to get through here."
Paving dirt roads is out of the question because of a tight budget, Rawls said. About 10 percent of Aiken County's dirt roads are in dire need of pavement, she said. Paving a mile of road costs about $400,000, she said. If the 1-cent sales tax is approved by voters in November, Rawls said she hopes some of the roads can be paved.
"I'm not in favor of raising taxes to pave roads, but the 1-cent sales tax could be a good remedy," she said. "We have to do what we can, since the money's not there for paving. Right now, this muddy mess is going to continue as long as it continues to rain."