County highway proves a rough road to travel

A motorist travels along unpaved road of County Road 231 on Friday, January 8, 2010.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.

Lined by pine trees and rural homesteads, Northwest County Road 231 could make for a nice scenic weekend drive, if not for the condition of the road itself.

Along the approximately six-mile stretch between State Road 121 north of Gainesville to State Road 235 south of the Brooker area, the road's surface is a scarred stretch of cracks, ruts, pot holes and patchwork repair jobs.

Heavy rains often open up new pot holes. Northbound drivers sometimes straddle the center line to avoid the worst spots.

The stretch south of the intersection of Northwest 156th Avenue has crumbled into a state of disrepair that, in the words of nearby resident Dick Cameron, "is absolutely like driving down the worst rural road - an unpaved road almost."

Cameron and other area residents have lobbied county government via email to fix the road, which they feel is a public safety issue growing more dangerous each year.

They have received some good news and some bad.

The good news: During summer budget hearings, county staff plans to ask the County Commission to move the road up on the list of resurfacing projects from fifth to second - behind Northwest 16th Avenue, which is already in the planning stages.

The bad news: That is still expected to leave the start of construction five years away - in early 2015.

Dave Robinson, who lives in the Monteocha area and drives to work along CR 231 every day, said major repair and repaving of the roadway cannot wait that long.

"I'll bet you that you cannot count the pot holes they have fixed," Robinson said. "It's dangerous when people are driving in the other lane. This is a necessity. This is what we pay taxes for."

In fact, any motorist who buys gasoline in Alachua County pays the taxes that county government uses to raise revenue for repaving projects.

Money from an additional five-cent local-option gas tax that county commissioners approved in 2007, which increases the total tax on a gallon of gas to the 12 cents in Alachua County, is used to fund the projects.

County Engineer Dave Cerlanek said the county's policy with money from the tax is "pay as you go" instead of additional borrowing on the heels of approximately $33 million in bond issues to do a series of road resurfacing projects, including Northwest 53rd Avenue, Southwest Eighth Avenue and Southwest 24th Avenue.

Cerlanek said the county has so far collected approximately half the money needed to fund the Northwest 16th Avenue resurfacing project, which is expected to cost about $7 million and have construction begin in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Then, under staff's plan, CR 231 would be the next repaving project funded. The estimated $5.6 million project would cover a stretch of nearly six miles form SR 121 to the point where CR 231 merges into SR 235. Under a 2008 traffic count, there were nearly 1,000 average vehicle trips per day in that area.

Cerlanek said the last resurfacing on the roadway was done in the mid-1980s and was expected to extend the life of the roadway by five to seven years.

"It is past its useful life," he said. "It is cracking and with every rain event we get, it opens up new pot holes. It is not only the wear and tear from vehicles, but weather events as well."

Cerlanek said that, under the cracked and crumbling pavement, the roadway base remains in good condition but that could change if the repair job does not happen in the next few years. That, he said, would run up the cost of the project.

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said he's received more resident emails of late complaining about the condition of CR 231.

"Unfortunately it all goes back to the fact that we had not done what we we needed to do with the road for decades and now we're paying the price," he said.

Pinkoson said he doubts the county could accelerate the construction timeline any more, since the gas tax funds would not be available.

"It's a money thing and we can't do it without the money," he said.

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