On Friday, the rains came down. A lot. Some parts of the county received eight inches or more. By Saturday morning, creeks and rivers were out of their banks, as were bar ditches, yards and roads. By any reckoning, it was a lot of rain in a very short period of time, and there were going to be problems.
I drove across Ranch Road 1222 from Katemcy to Fredonia early in the day to check out water levels. The State had already put up barricades where necessary, and the larger debris that had washed up on the roads had also been cleared.
In town, the City had put up barricades at several of the riskier low water crossings, and they also had cleared away debris that might have caused problems.
I didn't make it down any of the county roads until later in the day on Saturday. There were no barricades on any of the roads I drove. There were several low water crossings that still had full-sized debris in the roadway, which my friends and I stopped and moved.
Some of the worst crossings were completely impassable. It wasn't so much the water level, which was dropping rapidly; but, rather, the sand and gravel that washed over the road blocking traffic. We got a tractor and fixed that as well, along with some of the minor washes and erosion problems that made passage difficult; but, not necessarily impossible.
The county employees have come in during fires to help with grading and bulldozing; and, without their help, the situations could have been much worse. But when it comes to the roads on the weekend, we're all pretty much on our own.
My question: Is it time to look at the road department differently? Is it time to consider their role more one of public safety rather than maintenance, which would allow them to deploy crews during inclement weather to help make sure that county residents are not cut off from emergency services, or even basic services, when the roads wash out, which they always do.
In Commissioners' Court, we are always told that "It's too wet to work the roads." Then, in two weeks, "It's too dry to work the roads."
I know enough about the roads to understand the validity of those statements. But, if bar ditches, horns, culverts and bridges had been cleaned out when working the roads wasn't possible, much of the damage I saw this weekend would have been minimized or not happened at all.
Our roads are our lifelines in this county. But, I fear that our lifelines are wearing thin. When we have storms like the one we had last week, roads that are already suffering damage and abuse from normal wear and tear fall completely apart.
I know that it's become increasingly difficult to get anyone to give the county road material, and that is an expense that can become too much to bear if it has to be purchased. I also know that maintenance of roads means more than just grading the washboards and rough spots out. It means rebuilding and recrowning roads so that they carry water away and shed normal rainfall. It means only working a few roads a week rather than an entire precinct.
And, maybe, it means that we figure out how to treat the County Road Department the same as we do EMS, law enforcement and the fire department. We need to remember that the job this department does ties the county together. Good roads allow tourists to enjoy our springtime beauty. The roads allow us to get our products to market and our children to school. The condition of the roads reflects upon not just the county; but, also on the people living on those roads. An unkept road is like an unkept yard, and it sends much the same message.
I know most of the employees of the road department, and I know of their skills and abilities. Perhaps it's time we figured out how to reward them for being more than just a road crew; but, were treated as part of the safety net for everyone living in this county.
It’s all just my opinion.