York County won’t stop taking in new roads as incoming developments lay them, instead searching for other answers to their maintenance problem.
The idea of no longer accepting new roads came up several times previously as York County Council struggles to find ways of improving road maintenance. The idea came up formally in a January transportation committee meeting, with a planning staff study following.
“This is why you study things,” said councilman Michael Johnson. “This had a nice sound to it, until you read about it.”
If the county stopped accepting new roads into its maintenance system, a savings would follow for about five to seven years. The problem, the study found, comes later. If a builder turns over roads to a homeowner association for maintenance, the county has fewer assurances of proper construction and maintenance.
“We can’t go down this road and put it on the backs of homeowners, HOAs,” said councilman William “Bump” Roddey. “It’ll be disastrous.”
Roddey said road maintenance is the top concern he hears from residents. Yet maintenance is “a cost we’re going to have to deal with,” he said. Johnson looks at a neighborhood like Baxter, and wonders how a homeowner group is going to handle paving when the state and county are having trouble.
“I can’t imagine the cost of trying to repave all of their roads,” he said.
Regent Park, another neighborhood in his district, offers caution.
“Almost all of their roads are private, and I can tell you their roads are in poor shape,” Johnson said. “And they’re assessing their residents for those roads.”
Still, the Council sits in need of answers. Johnson had half a million dollars last year for maintenance in his district, and $6.5 million in requests. Roads scored higher that 44 out of 100 didn’t make the list for consideration.
Some Council members say maintenance needs to be included on the next Pennies for Progress referendum, to date only a construction program funded by a voter-mandated sales tax. Some say more pressure needs to be applied to state legislators, who aren’t providing money for state roads.
Councilman Bruce Henderson said he despises the options before his group, but compared to a much-discussed moratorium throughout the Fort Mill and Lake Wylie areas sees value in refusing to accept new roads.
“We’re having to choose the lesser of two evils,” Henderson said. “Moratorium? In my opinion, bad word. But some of these other things we’re talking about, I think is a compromise.”
Councilwoman Christi Cox called it “illogical” to talk moratorium without looking at issues like whether to accept new roads.
“We do not have enough money currently to pay for the roads we have in our system,” she said. “I believe we should find a mechanism to ensure growth pays for growth.”
The issue is one county leaders only see growing.
“We’re not closing roads,” Roddey said. “We’re opening new roads. They’re getting worse.”
The county study, which also looked at a similar ordinance in Lancaster County, assumes routine resurfacing is needed on roads every 15 to 20 years. Without proper upkeep during that time, resurfacing is needed more often. The study assumes some homeowner groups won’t maintain roads, but can’t estimate what percentage.
The study found several potential problems. One, all residents would pay taxes that go toward maintenance but only residents in newer neighborhoods also would pay through their homeowner groups. Another, the county would have to step in an fix or assume a road when it becomes in so bad a shape school buses, postal workers or emergency crews couldn’t use it.
Once the county makes a fix for public safety reasons – a fix the study assumes is much higher than maintenance all along – other homeowner groups may see that path as an out in their situations and reduce or stop maintenance. Or, at some point the homeowner group may no longer exist.
“Once an HOA fails, how are you going to fix this?” Johnson said. “I don’t believe this works, at the end of the day. I think this creates a greater problem than exists today.”
The county has 448 miles of paved roads. Annual maintenance is $7,000 per mile. The cost of resurfacing, today, is about $325,000 per mile.
“I just see it as a way to take what’s already a pretty bad problem and make it a much larger problem,” said Councilman Robert Winkler. “It’s much less expensive to maintain a road that’s up to county standards than it is one that’s turned back into gravel, pretty much.”
Chairman Britt Blackwell says homeowner associations won’t pay for maintenance or will cut corners, and “once the standards are poor, maintenance is impossible.” Council members agree they don’t have the solution now. But a majority feels a halt to new roads isn’t it.
“We don’t have the perfect way,” Blackwell said, “but we’re doing it the best way right now.”
John Marks: 803-831-8166