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Patching the problems: hidden costs and possible solutions: The Long Road, part 3 of 3

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Lineberger: Damaged roads can cause huge car repair bills

By Chris Sardelli

As motorists head out the door for their morning commute, coffee cups in hand, the sound most would like to hear is their favorite song playing on the radio.

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Unfortunately, for many drivers, the noises they are instead greeted with include bangs, scrapes and clunks as their cars dip into potholes and maneuver along cracking pavement. 

That’s long been the case for drivers along Indian Land’s Henry Harris Road, a stretch of road near U.S. 521 riddled with potholes, uneven pavement and a smattering of  

 

patch jobs.  

It’s the same for commuters along Taxahaw Road, several miles east of Lancaster, where holes are so large cars have been known to “bottom out.” 

As for the area where First and North Ashe streets meet in Kershaw, motorists can play connect the dots with a plethora of patched holes along the road. 

But there’s more to the story than just inconvenience for drivers and longer commutes.

Kim Lineberger says bad roads can also mean astronomical repair bills for local motorists. 

As president of Lancaster-based Lineberger Construction Inc., a road construction and site development firm, Lineberger is familiar with the costs associated with bad roads. 

“Just look at all the things drivers need to have fixed because they drive on bad roads. There’s tire repair, front end alignments,” Lineberger said. “By the time you’re done, that’s an extra $1,000 a year spent to fix cars. It really adds up.” 

Lineberger said she experienced that strain firsthand when her own car needed an alignment. 

“It’s because the roads are in such a bad condition that you have to bring the car in every six months,” she said. “If you stop and think about it, it’s a big deal.” 

Deteriorating roads may also contribute to car accidents as well, Lineberger said. 

With a fleet of trucks and more than 100 pieces of construction equipment at their disposal, Lineberger’s staff often participates in safety meetings with the S.C. Highway Patrol. 

“You’d think deaths from accidents in South Carolina wouldn’t be comparable to a place like New York, but it’s surprising. We’re in the top five states for accident deaths,” she said.

Through those safety meetings she’s learned that while bad roads don’t necessarily cause accidents, they can contribute to an already unsafe situation. 

“Roads don’t start the problem, but they don’t help. If you have a distracted driver and he hits a pothole, he’s responsible, but the condition of the road made it worse,” Lineberger said. 

Maintaining ditches, drainpipes

It’s not all bad news, as county and independent road crews have found ways to tackle these problems.

Already making a difference is a new Vactor pipe-cleaning truck purchased by the county, said County Administrator Steve Willis.

“In the past, pipes would jam up full of debris and they would dry like concrete. Back then they could only dig the pipe up and change it out, even though the pipe was sound,” Willis said. “But now we have this truck, similar to those used for sewer lines. We’re cleaning out drain lines and saving money because we’re not replacing the pipe.” 

Lancaster County Public Works Director Jeff Catoe said the truck, which cost about $75,000 and was paid for from the county’s capital budget, is helping his crew of 17 field workers keep pipes from filling with silt, which can eventually lead to flooded roads.  

“Rather than dig roads up or having the cost of patchwork, this will help us from a maintenance standpoint,” Catoe said.  

Crews are also making sure ditches along roads are clear. 

“We’re putting a little bit more focus on drainage as far as routine maintenance goes. When you have weather like we’ve had, it’s worth your while to keep ditches clear,” Catoe said. “It’s easier to maintain something than having to replace it.”

Catoe’s department is also placing a greater emphasis on the engineering aspects of roads. 

“In bigger jobs, we’re also trying to do a little more engineering in-house or with consultants. We’re trying to make sure pipes are sized right so they last longer,” he said. “But really, the biggest thing is funding and finding a way to improve an aging infrastructure.” 

Greener and more efficient materials are also proving their worth in the field, Lineberger said. 

She points to soil-cement as a vital tool in keeping road costs down, making road crews more efficient and stabilizing road foundations. Soil-cement is a mixture of portland cement, soil and water, combined to strengthen the soil base and create a pavement structure. 

“The difference with using soil-cement is you’re not hauling off anything. When pavement was used you had to saw cut, dig out the deteriorated asphalt, haul it off, bring in the new asphalt and fill in the holes. With soil-cement, you don’t do that. Everything is mixed on site. It’s not only green, but it’s much more cost-effective,” Lineberger said. 

The process is also considered more economical than patching, especially since the price of petroleum-based asphalt has risen along with gas prices. 

Lineberger’s company recently used the process to pave Quality Drive inside the Lancaster Business Park. 

Another technology helping improve road stability and reduce maintenance costs, is a high-tensile textile material called stabilizing fabric. 

“If you can spread weight across the fabric, it spreads the load out along the road,” she said.

Future of funding 

Is there any hope of additional funding to fix the county’s roads?

Willis said Lancaster County Council members have entertained preliminary discussion about one day changing the use of the current one-cent capital-project sales tax allocated to pay off bonds for the county’s new courthouse. 

“Council members have said that when the courthouse tax ends, sometime in the 2014 time frame, they want to have a committee to come up with a list of roads in need of work,” Willis said. “The idea is the tax could be used for heavy road maintenance and any other road project the committee wants to do.”

If a committee is eventually chosen, they would be tasked with developing a list of needed road projects, though council could only approve or reject the list. 

“Council cannot adjust, alter, or edit the list, so that citizen’s committee would be pretty powerful,” Willis said.

Are road problems related to car accidents?

There may be a correlation between bad roads and vehicular accidents, based on statistics released this week from the S.C. Department of Transportation.

S.C. Secretary of Transportation Robert St. Onge credits a recent drop in traffic fatalities to a combination of improved road maintenance and patrols by law enforcement. 

Statistics show a record drop in fatalities on the state’s highways in August, tallied at 45 deaths, which is 17 less than in August 2011. As of Aug. 31, the number of fatalities on all public roads in the state was 526, a drop from 543 during the same time in 2011. 

“SCDOT engineers are maximizing the resources available to them to improve the safety of roads and intersections that need improvements,” St. Onge said.  

 

   

 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416