Originally created 11/19/96

Dusty Dixie roads

WAYNESBORO, Ga. - Muck. More muck. Sopping, sucking, cement-like muck.

Welcome to Adell Craig's street.

Ms. Craig lives on Stripp Lane, a dirt road in Burke County just outside the city. Her home for 12 years, Stripp Lane requires a lot of forgiveness when the skies pour down rain.

"It's horrible," Ms. Craig says. "To myself, I'd rather have it paved."

Not that she and her neighbors aren't grateful for recent improvements on Stripp Lane's pock-marked paths. Driving on it used to turn a car into a pogo stick, and even the school bus and mail trucks refused to turn its way. Then maintenance crews cut a path linking the clay-and-sand-mixed road to two paved roads. Now the mail comes, and school buses drop kids in front of their homes.

"When we first moved here, you couldn't go out this way at all," says Crystal Webb, who has lived on Stripp Lane for 11 years. Even with the new and improved dirt road, "I'd rather be on the blacktop because of the dust."

Stripp Lane is considered a private road and thus not part of 480 miles of dirt roads that Burke County hopes to pave. It's one of the few dirt roads that isn't a headache for Burke County elected officials.

Georgia's second-largest county has 803 miles of county-controlled roads, with just 323 miles paved. The state transportation department is responsible for about 1,100 miles in Burke County.

The asphalt arteries pump in commerce and industry, but corridors of clay are the main means of travel in most of Burke County. It makes deciding which road is paved next as routine a headache for elected officials as taxes. There's always an argument, always a disappointment, sometimes a happy citizen, but never enough money.

"Just for a county road, from scratch to ending, it can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000 or $135,000 (a mile)," says Billy Hopper, Burke County administrator.

Aiken County has 950 miles of county-controlled dirt roads compared to only 375 miles of paved. Columbia County motorists drive on 95 miles of county-controlled dirt roads and 534 miles of paved thoroughfares. Richmond County drivers roll on 1,013.23 miles of paved road

compared to 57.90 miles of dirt, both county- and state-controlled.

Burke County's budget allows for paving of eight to 10 miles of roadway each year. It takes a couple of months just to pave two miles of dirt road, compared to a day to resurface two or three miles of paved road, said Jesse Burke, roads superintendent.

With that funding and that pace, the county will finish the job in the year 2053. (By then - when we're flying space vehicles - will it matter?)

But in 1996 living on a dirt road really matters to most Burke Countians, whether they hate it or love it.

"It's certainly of great importance to those that live on or have business on a particular dirt road," Mr. Hopper says. "To that person, it is a constant problem, and it's probably the biggest thing he has."

Some people prefer the pace a dirt road offers. After all, some of Burke County's dirt roads offer a smoother ride than motorists get rolling down Walton Way toward downtown Augusta.

"You've got some property owners that don't want their road paved," Mr. Hopper says. "They don't really care about increasing the traffic on the road, the speeding or whatever."

Often, reluctance by homeowners to allow pavement on their dirt roads has led to legal fights with the county commission. Mr. Hopper says commissioners routinely must condemn property a homeowner has refused to relinquish so road crews may lay the asphalt.

"Constantly now, when you get ready to pave a road and you get to seeking deeds ... you run into, out of 20 deeds, one or two people on the road (who) just don't want it paved," Mr. Hopper says.

Most of the holdouts cite their love of the slow pace of life on a dirt road, the administrator says.

Then there are the repairs, when dirt roads get too bumpy or too sloppy or too run-down. Road crews constantly drag dirt roads to smooth them out, and although they get high marks from Ms. Webb and other residents, they often run into irate citizens.

Frierson Broxton was mad not at the condition of his dirt road but at the slow progress of clearing its ditches.

In 1994, Mr. Broxton held a county-owned rubber tire excavator hostage for 14 days, refusing to allow road crews to unchain it from his yard on Quaker Road. He'd warned them not to leave it on his property again while they repaired the ditches, but they did, so he kept it.

"I pay taxes," Mr. Broxton said in 1994. "I want the road fixed."

He says now he doesn't mind that Quaker Road is still dirt, as long as the crews take care of it and smooth it out often. And keep an eye on the ditches.

"That road is not used enough for paving for the cost," Mr. Broxton says. "By the time I get out to the road, I drive 20 foot and I'm on a paved road. It gets slippery, but if they put a little gravel on it, it's all right."

As much as the dirt roads slow the pace of travel and as much as a few residents cling to their clayand-sand roads, Burke County wants a different image. It seeks an identity as a bedroom community, a place of industry. It seeks what paved roads offer - urbanity.

"A dirt road is always going to be a dirt road," Mr. Hopper says. "You can have it in good shape, but if it rains or you have a dry spell, you're going to get (trouble)."

Miles of dirt

Burke County has 480 miles of dirt road with just 323 miles of county-controlled paved roads.

Aiken County has 950 miles of dirt roads compared to 375 miles of paved, counting county-controlled roads only.

Columbia County has 95 miles of county-controlled dirt roads and 534 miles of paved paths.

Richmond County has 57.90 miles of dirt, both county- and state-controlled, and 1,013.23 miles of paved road.


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