Maintaining 650 miles of road

In the memory of some still living, the main elements of road maintenance in Lafayette County included gravel, graders and elbow grease.
These days they include GPS guidance, high-visibility retroflective signage and engineered-plastic culverts that outlast their concrete and steel predecessors.

“This year we’ve got every road in the new system,” said Road Manager Jerry Haynie, whose 44-person department maintains 650 miles of roads and 187 bridges. “We’re going back to every road with a GPS system, the measurements and a description.”

The five-man Board of Supervisors sets priorities for Haynie’s department, while County Administrator Joseph Johnson manages its $5.6 million budget, and County Engineer Larry Britt oversees bridge maintenance and other major projects. Being on the unit system, Lafayette County supervisors do not directly oversee road maintenance but collectively set the budget, policies and priorities.

“It’s a big part of what they get judged by,” Haynie said. “I tell them in election years, ‘You may get beat, but it won’t be because of my department.’”

Because of this year’s tough winter and late spring, road crews have to do more repairs than usual before turning their efforts to paving and repaving. Haynie started out with 35 roads needing significant repairs, but the number eventually climbed to 50.

“We’ve got to go back and repair roads before we can start to level and reseal or overlay,” he said. Some 90 miles of Lafayette County roads are still gravel surfaced, Woodson Ridge Road (County Road 215), Lafayette Springs Road (County Road 251) and more than a dozen other “state aid” roads are paved with asphalt, as are some subdivision streets and other less-used roads.

The majority of the county’s roads are Double Bituminous Surface Treatment (DBST), in which tar is sprayed onto an existing gravel road with a stable roadbed, and while the tar is still hot, crushed stone is smoothed in, offering a stable, all-weather surface.

“As money allows, we’re trying to DBST nearly all our gravel roads,” Haynie said. “What happened years ago, they were trying to get people off of gravel roads, and they just went and bladed them up and added DBST. Some held up well, but some need a lot of repair.”

Before Lafayette County crews pave a gravel road, they take samples to determine how compacted the roadbed is.

“It’s kind of like building a house – the foundation has to be able to tote the weight,” Haynie said. If a roadbed needs stabilizing, crews use “The Zipper.”
“It’s like an overgrown garden tiller. It grinds up the material there and compacts it,” he said.
When the level of traffic justifies the change, some DBST roads are upgraded with a layer of asphalt – usually 1.5 inches thick – added to the existing surface.

Once paved, the biggest challenges in keeping county roads in good shape, Haynie said, are heavy vehicles and water.

“Log trucks, concrete trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks, farm trucks – any heavy traffic does damage,” he said. “And to keep DBST in place, you’ve got to keep it drained. We change out a lot of culverts and pipes.”

Culverts have changed drastically in recent years. Steel rusts, while concrete culverts’ joints often break when the earth shifts around them, so the current models are plastic – ribbed on the outside for strength and smooth on the inside for easy flow of water and mud.

“These polycarbon pipes, if they’re not damaged, essentially last forever,” Haynie said.
Another material upgrade in progress on county roads is the replacement of existing road signs with retroflective versions that are far more visible, especially at night.

While county crews do mowing, grading, ditching, DBST overlaying and asphalt paving, among other tasks, the county contracts out construction of bridges and box culverts under the supervision of County Engineer Larry Britt. One current project involving four bridges on County Road 244 has been an ongoing headache because of severe delays, but the contractor has promised completion in two months, given decent weather, Haynie said.

Haynie was a road laborer for Lafayette County early in his career before taking a different job. He came back as shop foreman in 1990 and became road manager nearly 10 years ago.

“I’m proud of this department,” he said. “I tell my folks, when you tell people where you work, poke that chest out and be proud of where you work. It reflects back on the type of work you do.”

Twitter: @oxfordcitizenec

About Errol Castens

I'm a news reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Focusing on Oxford and Lafayette County, I've been a part of the L-O-U community since 1991.