Special Report: Houston County deals with forestry and county road issues

By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – The road situation in Houston County is different. On top of county roads with low maintenance budgets you also have miles of gravel roads maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.

It's not every day that a county commissioner complains about the very roads he's supposed to maintain.

"These tanker trucks are hauling salt water and tearing the road all to pieces," said Commissioner Pat Perry, Houston County - precinct 3.

These trucks are hauling 24 hours a day - seven days a week on a small, gravel Houston County road.

"They go down in the ditches.  They have squished the mud out in the ditch.  Now the road is the ditch.  The water can't get off it at all," said Perry.

Houston County precinct 3 Commissioner Pat Perry has a problem.  A big problem.

"I have to fix this road," said Perry.

Four families reside on Houston County road 3450. The road's condition is becoming hazardous.

"Getting to where they can't get in or out," said Perry.

The state of county road 3450 weighs on Perry.  There are few options considering his precinct's budget.

"I have less than fifty thousand dollars in my budget to make it to October the first.  I don't think fifty thousand dollars would fix this road."

On the east side of Houston County the U.S. Forest Service maintains miles of roads that wind through the Davey Crockett National Forest.  Transportation planner, Steve Lewis is the man in charge.

"I pretty much do all the roadwork on the forest service road work in terms of managing the roads, maintenance, construction, bridges, trail bridges, the whole ball of wax," said Lewis.

Unlike county roads, funds don't seem to be problem for the upkeep of forestry roads.  They receive allocated dollars from the federal government.

"We're able to maintain our roads with the money we have," said Lewis.

And unlike county commissioners, the U.S. Forest Service doesn't have their own crews for roads maintenance.

"All of our roads are maintained through a contractor on that we have on board that we hire through a competitive process."

Contractors maintain all forestry roads and the forest service says they spend most of their dollars on roads the public uses the most.  But some of those drivers - aren't always happy.

"Pot holes, wash outs, sometimes, it's impassible at times," described Danny Yount, Houston County Resident.

Houston county resident Danny Yount is describing forestry road 511.  A road he used to take between Ratcliff and Apple Springs.

"I don't anymore.  It's too bad.  I go around.  It is bad and it's washed out and they haven't maintained it in forever," said Yount.

It's supposed to be grated down four times a year.

"They'll grate it, but they don't grate it deep enough to get the rocks out, holes out to fill them in.  They push dirt in them and go about their business," said Yount.

Forestry road 511 isn't pretty.  And it's even tougher on vehicles.

"Well, you get flats, front end out of alignment, bent rims sometimes," said Yount.

For Perry, a bad road's effects can be even worse.

"If you get it down to where emergency vehicles can't get down there you're going to have to stop and fix it," said Perry.

He talked to a company who is hauling the salt water and was told they would take care of the road.  But nothing has happened.

"It's just going to get worse.  It will continue to get worse for those people who can't in or out.  Somehow or another I have to stop these people," said Perry.

He doesn't understand why the company didn't upgrade the road before it even started hauling.  It will cost them more to repair now that's it's completely destroyed.

"It would be to their advantage to fix it before they started hauling on it…. they get stuck and they have to get a big bulldozer so a big wrecker to pull them out," said Perry.

He's doesn't have the money.  But he does have the equipment.  He's ready to bargain before it gets even worse.

"I just need some help.  If they'll buy the materials, I'll be glad to furnish my own maintainer, back ho, whatever we got to do.  I just can't afford the materials to fix these holes."

The answer for bad forestry roads may be easier.  The U.S. Forest Service just asks for a heads up.

"Whatever district that road is on - just call that district office we have an engineer in the district offices who can answer their questions and take their concerns and most of the time we can get to this problem right away," said Lewis.

Sustaining miles and miles of roads may be impossible. Even if finances aren't the problem - a good road can become a bad road without warning.

The recent wet weather creates problems for both county and forestry maintenance. It's a two-fold complication in that rain damages roads and it also prevents maintenance crews from repairing them.

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