July 9, 2009 in Washington Voices

Elk’s unpaved roads create quite a dust-up

Billie Martin
 

Mount Spokane hovers over and the Little Spokane River meanders through the Elk and Chattaroy communities. Summer mornings are beautiful out here in the northeastern corner of Spokane County. As the day warms, the morning dew evaporates and the traffic increases, the dust sets in.

One of the worst areas for dust is the Bridges Road and Madison Road intersection. The washboard effect is so bad, most locals don’t drive more than 25 mph. The folks using Elk roads to travel back and forth to Newport and points north or to State Highway 41 in Idaho drive like maniacs, which makes the dust worse.

Several years ago (in 2001, I believe), the county spent a tremendous amount of time and money grading, leveling and building up Bridges Road, and everyone thought, finally, they are going to pave the main arterial through Elk to Idaho. But they stopped before paving or chip sealing. What a waste!

After many community gatherings, town hall meetings with county officials, property owner surveys, and voting on three separate road improvement districts since March 2008, it was determined that the 5.3-mile stretch of Nelson, Jackson, Oregon and Jefferson roads will be paved, but not the 2.4-mile Frideger Road section or the 6.9-mile Bridges and Madison roads section. Frideger was eliminated after the survey, but the Bridges/Madison survey was a tie, so it went to a vote. The vote was 51.4 percent no to 48.6 percent yes. One odd thing about that vote is that the cost assessment for each frontage parcel would have been $6,464 regardless of size or how many parcels one person owns, yet there was one vote for each dollar of property assessment.

Locals believe Bridges Road is an arterial and should have been paved years ago. The county says it is not an arterial – because they say so. Well, they don’t drive on it or live on it with all of the traffic, much of it not local. In the average daily traffic counts conducted by the county in October 2007, the two highest counts on the Nelson, Jackson, Oregon and Jefferson RID (which passed) were each about 350, and yet both the Frideger and Madison intersection and the Bridges and Madison intersection (which did not pass) had counts of about 900. That is probably more daily traffic than half of the roads in the county, but they don’t consider it an arterial.

Many people in Elk, especially longtime residents, have said they believe our taxes should cover the cost of our roads being paved, or at least maintained. The county claims it spends $9,174 per mile per year to maintain our roads. If they pay that much for the “maintenance” on Elk’s gravel roads, there are a lot of people who would like that job. That maintenance is grading a couple of times each spring and fall, and a few snow plowings each winter. They call the roads gravel, but with the dust, they should be called dirt roads.

In Pend Oreille County, the dust stays a couple of feet above the road. Ours in Elk hangs over much of the community like a 30-foot-high cloud most of the summer. Many people have bad allergies, bronchial problems and even more serious breathing problems from the dust. It has been suggested several times that the county conduct an environmental test on the dust, but the idea is ignored. It is the county’s duty to maintain our roads, not a privilege given to some and sold to others.

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