The cycle goes like this: The county highway department paves a road but subsequent traffic roughs up the surface, causing it to pit and crack. In response, county highway departments try to track and repair the damage, but it’s difficult to do that with the relatively small allotment of gas tax revenue most counties get.
The process is accelerated when large trucks carry loads of timber, rock or other material across the pavement, often on routes not intended to handle heavy loads. A state law passed this spring could help break the cycle, but Calhoun County officials say it’s flawed.
The bill requires timber companies to notify county governments before they begin work in the county’s jurisdiction. A first-time violation of the law would result in a warning; if found out of compliance again, the company could be fined.
Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson said it’s problematic that the bill only targets the lumber industry, adding that the bill lacks “teeth” and a mechanism for enforcement.
Henderson said the bill is “a step in the right direction.” Still, he said, it doesn’t help with the county’s bottom line.
The bill does little to nothing to prevent the type of damage that two roads in his district recently sustained, Henderson said. He said residents claim that those roads, Hill Drive and Francis Mill Drive, were damaged by logging trucks and concrete trucks.
Since 2009 the county has spent roughly $80,000 repairing the roads, Calhoun County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm said.
“A regular car has a hard time getting over it down there,” said Francis Mill Road resident Paul Yancy.
“All you have to do is get between Mudd Street and 77 and it’ll tear your car up.”
His cousin, Joyce Yancy, also lives on Francis Mill Road.
“They patched it and patched it and patched it,” she said. “When it gets hot it gets mushy.”
In the past few months the roads have been damaged, once again, by heavy trucks, Henderson said. Now he anticipates repairing the roads again. It’s not right, he says, to use taxpayer money to repeatedly fix roads damaged by private companies.
“They’re profiting off our roads, and then we have to go and repair the roads,” Henderson said.
The problem can be worse in rural counties, Rosenbalm said, where lower tax income, weaker roads and more logging companies’ trucks take a toll on maintenance budgets. In those counties, the bill could work well in connection with a provision in state law which places the burden of paying for road repairs on those who damage them.
If the counties have a better idea of which roads are being traveled by the trucks, officials can keep track of damage, Rosenbalm said.
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, views the bill favorably.
“We think it’s a piece of legislation that stands to help us protect county roads in a fairly significant way,” Brasfield said. He said the bill has its roots in a measure that was pushed by the timber industry itself. The industry backed the development of a bill that would streamline the ordinances that local governments were passing to track their whereabouts, said Sam Duvall, a spokesman for the Alabama Forestry Association.
“SB 409 represents a good faith effort to bring some uniformity to this chaotic process. The bill basically would ‘authorize’ county commissions to adopt an ordinance requiring loggers or landowners to file notice before a job starts of the intent to use county roads in conjunction with their operations,” Duvall wrote in an email.
Officials in Calhoun County and surrounding counties say that they must balance their interest in maintaining county roads with the need to encourage economic growth. The very industries that use heavy trucks — timber and concrete companies — employ residents and are vital to economic sustainability.
Randolph County Engineer Burrell Jones understands that delicate balance well. He said timber is big business in his county.
There, timber companies and a quarrying company have already worked with the county to maintain roads there. The timber companies have repaired the dirt roads that belong to the county and the quarry agreed to supply material to pave the road that leads out of the facility.
“We’ve had some assistance from the industries,” Jones said. “They work hand-in-hand with us.”
Clay County Engineer Jeremy Butler said his county has been troubled by the amount of damage done to roads by logging companies. The trucks, he said, do damage that are “usually above and beyond normal wear and tear.”
Butler said the bill “could be stronger” but added that it’s a “good start.”
Like Jones in Randolph County, he said officials work with companies to help maintain the roads they damage.
“We have a good group of loggers that operate here. Most of them try to do what’s right,” Butler said.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.