By Alex Bridges
Residents in a rural Warren County neighborhood continue to struggle with icy roads nearly a week after recent snowstorms.
While warmer temperatures may melt the ice, some residents say the county could have done a better job on clearing their roads.
Warren County maintains most of the 40-plus miles of gravel roads in the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District. Deputy County Administrator Robert Childress oversees maintenance of the district roads. Childress said the county has been busy in the district since the first snow occurred more than a week ago. The county worked last weekend trying to remove snow from the gravel roads and help improve the routes for drivers.
But Freeze Road resident Dee Schools said it appeared the county did not have enough manpower on duty to handle the ice and snow in the sprawling neighborhood.
"It was so bad the other night that the county couldn't even get in because we had six cars piled up on my road in the ditches," Schools said, referring to Saturday.
Tulip Poplar Drive resident Ryan Schaeffer echoed Schools' concerns.
"They seem to concentrate on the main thoroughfares through there, so my road's one of the latter ones that gets picked on after the fact," Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer said he stayed at a friend's house in Haymarket most of the past week because of the weather and the road conditions.
Schools and Schaeffer said the county sent two people with trucks into the neighborhood to work on the roads after the first storm more than a week ago.
"We didn't get anywhere near the service that we normally get," Schools said.
Schools said the county also had problems during the last storm with trying to bring aggregate stone the district workers could spread on the trouble spots.
"It just seems to me that they're not putting their money where it needs to be," Schools said.
Some residents also complained about the county's work to grade the gravel road and fill ruts and potholes. Dry weather this season hampered the efforts to grade the gravel roads ahead of the winter, County Administrator Douglas Stanley Stanley said. Childress concurred.
"It was very challenging for us to do our full-scale fall grading," Childress said. "We got over a lot of the roads but, again, it was very dry."
Once the county finished grading the weather changed. Since late November the county experienced rain, sleet and freezing conditions, Childress noted. This change had a greater effect on areas of higher elevation such as parts of the sanitary district.
Salt or other chemicals often used to treat paved roads would damage the gravel routes, Childress said.
"When you're in constant freeze conditions, you're at the mercy of nature," Childress said.
Stanley said Childress is working with the county's contracted maintenance firm to make sure they can resume grading of the gravel roads as soon as conditions permit. Stanley said he's hopeful grading can take place in the next week.
Childress added that while roads may appear clear, several inches of snow can remain in the ditches. The grader must be able to get to the ditches in order for the process to work, so the contractor needs to wait for the snow to fully melt, Childress explained. He and the contractor are monitoring the weather and the road conditions. The grader also can't be used if the roads are too wet.
The county recently handed over maintenance of some of the roads in the district that were repaved to the state under a cost-sharing program with the property owners and the Virginia Department of Transportation. Stanley pointed out that VDOT maintains approximately 55 miles of gravel roads in the county. By comparison, the county maintains approximately 42 miles of gravel roads in the district. The county has two trucks at its disposal. But Stanley said that earlier this week it appeared that county-maintained roads were in better shape than some state roads.
"We're handling a comparable amount of mileage with a lot less equipment and resources, but we're able to take care of it and keep it in the condition that is, again, comparable or better than what some of the adjacent VDOT roads are," Stanley said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org