It’s understandable why neighbors near Cosby Cundiff Road thought the county built a bridge on a private drive.
The road leads to one person’s property and a “private property” sign has been seen hanging across the bridge at night.
The road, however, like dozens of others in the county that lead to a single dwelling, is indeed a public highway.
Ironically, the county did not build a bridge for a private road, but the local landowner did largely build a new road for the county.
The road is an interesting marriage between private and public money. It is just one example of the problems the county continually faces because of a rich history of making most every roadway–large or small–a public highway.
DRIVEWAY OR HIGHWAY?
On a list of county roads dated October 2009, around 300 roads are two-tenths of a mile or less.
It wasn’t until early 2007 that the county began putting restrictions on any road being accepted into the county road system. A previous ordinance from 2003 addressed roadways in subdivisions.
The existing ordinance requires that a road meet specific surfacing requirements, be at least two-tenths of a mile long and lead to at least three dwellings or three entrances to farms or businesses.
Even so, the county is responsible for the 300 roads with less than two-tenths of a mile, some of which could easily be classified as a single dwelling driveway.
In magistrate Sammy Baker’s district, where Cosby Cundiff Road measures at .166 miles, there are close to 32 miles of blacktopped road, 34 miles of chip and seal and another 25.5 miles of gravel road, according to July 2010 statistics.
Within the county, there are close to 322 miles of blacktop, 154 miles of chip and seal and another 119 miles of gravel.
District 6 Magistrate Joe Rogers is responsible for the most amount of roadway, with 66 miles of blacktop, almost 24 miles of chip and seal and almost 33 miles of gravel. Baker’s district has the second highest number of roadway miles.
Baker has faced criticism by constituents who question why the new bridge and roadway were developed on Cosby Cundiff Road and other roads in the district have been blacktopped while they continue to live on dilapidated roadways.
Bobby Stephens lives on Mackey Spoon Road, a narrow county road just over half a mile long that ends at a farm with several poultry houses.
“You have to back up when you meet equipment,” Stephens said. “There’s not much of a place you can pull off. You just have to throw it in reverse and back up until you can find a place.”
The county puts gravel on each side of the road but ditches wash away frequently, he noted.
Stephens said he and another landowner have asked about widening the road. He said he was told there isn’t enough money.
Larry Russo lives on Right Fork Overstreet Road, which is .35 miles of rough, narrow terrain. Russo said he was asked years ago about having the road repaired and at the time told a former magistrate to use the money for areas with more need. He apparently missed his only opportunity to have the road fixed.
Baker acknowledges there are a number of roads in his district that need attention. At today’s cost of roadwork, however, the county must prioritize improvements.
Baker said his first priority is to reduce the number of gravel roads.
“I try to get people out of the dust,” he said.
Blacktop is expensive –it cost from $55,000 to $75,000 a mile to blacktop a new road.
A cheaper option is not a good value long-term, Baker said.
“With chip and seal, all you can do is rebuild, resurface,” Baker said. “With chip and seal, if a school bus runs it twice a day, you are wasting your time. You are better off with gravel. If it gets a chug hole in it, you have to start from scratch.”
While magistrates play a major role in determining road improvements in their district, they don’t always get the final say. For instance, the county’s policy requires that the county judge and road foreman approve bridge replacements.
Baker said he supported putting the new bridge on Cosby Cundiff Road but he did not request it.
Jadell Janes, the owner of the property surrounding Cosby Cundiff Road, talked to Baker, County Judge Executive Ann Melton and Road Foreman Jobe Darnell about the road.
Janes said the road entrance was steep and twisted, and was dangerous. High waters constantly washed the road away and backed up in the field. The county often spent money making repairs because of high waters.
Janes said he offered to rebuild the road if the county rebuilt the old concrete low water crossing. He paid for all the work and had a new entrance built for the road, then signed a right-of-way over to the county for the new section of roadway.
According to records in the county judge’s office, the county spent around $41,000 for the bridge. Judge Melton said county road crews built the bridge and some materials came from excess materials from state-funded bridge projects.
PRIVATE VERSUS PUBLIC
While Cosby Cundiff Road may have been a joint effort between a landowner and the county, when public moneys provide a road, the road is open to the public.
Janes said he had been blocking the road at night to keep people from a construction site for a new house.
The right to block a road is forfeited when a road belongs to the county, however, even if it leads to one house or one person’s land.
Melton said it had not been brought to her attention that the road was being blocked until she was interviewed for this article. She said she would contact the county attorney and a letter would be sent to Janes telling him to stop blocking the roadway.
Melton said this issue arises from time to time, mostly because of concern about theft or about livestock getting out. Each time, property owners are notified about the law and told to reopen the road, she said.
Property owners can request that a road be taken out of the county road system. A petition must be filed with the fiscal court and a public hearing process is conducted. If one person opposes the closure, the road must remain open.
Since 2007, a total of 14 roads have been removed from county maintenance.
As for Janes, he said he did not realize it was a problem for him to block Cosby Cundiff Road and he would stop closing it at night.
It’s a choice a lot of landowners must make: privacy comes at a cost, and in this case, it cost the price of maintaining a road.
By Sharon Burton