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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, March 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Rough country roads sorely need improvement

By Billie Martin

It’s the time of year when we are all ready for spring.

It is beautiful in the Elk-Chattaroy area when everything blooms. That’s the very good part of the Elk-Chattaroy – it is beautiful. And the people are friendly, helpful and caring.

The bad in spring is that Spokane County puts up weight restriction and speed limit signs. (Logically, the restricted speed limit should be lower than the normal speed, but in downtown Elk, the normal 25 mph rules over the 30 mph posted on the restriction sign.) The county has a calculation chart it uses to decide the maximum allowable weight per axle allowed on restricted roads. There are some exceptions to the rules: school buses, county maintenance vehicles and milk, livestock feed or fuel oil trucks that transport perishable commodities or commodities necessary for the health and safety of residents.

A special permit must be issued by the county engineer in advance to operate excepted vehicles over county roads under restrictions. The restrictions usually last about six weeks, but the timing depends on the seasonal variations.

Who knows this year? There is still a lot of snow in the Elk area. In any case, it’s bad for those who are ready to start their spring home-improvement projects. No deliveries of lumber, gravel or concrete and no well drilling, septic installations or construction that requires large, loaded trucks traveling over the restricted roads.

Now, for the ugly – the potholes. The potholes are worse in the spring after the snow melts, but they are bad most of the time. The only time they aren’t bad is when they are filled with snow and for one or two days after the road grader makes a run. Of course, that only happens three or four times from spring to fall.

When the roads are at their worst, in the driest part of the summer, there is no grading. We have been told two reasons for that: It’s too dusty, and there is a chance of the grader sparking a fire. Ever heard of water trucks?

The low-grade dirt and gravel used on the roads is another bad thing. It rises many feet above us and lingers for hours. It is unhealthy and affects many people, causing allergies, coughing and, in some cases, lung disease. You often have to wait a couple of minutes at intersections to be able to see any oncoming traffic.

Watching news reports about potholes in the Spokane area makes me laugh. They show some pretty good potholes, but they are usually sets of two or three.

They should drive up Bridges Road, Fridegar Road or any of the many miles of dirt-gravel roads in Elk if they really want to see some potholes. There are sections on Bridges Road, from Elk-Chattaroy Road to Jackson Road, where there are a hundred potholes within a 50-foot section. There are so many and they are so close together that you just about have to stop to ease through them. The large trucks can go a little faster and straddle the holey areas. But if you drive a small, economical car, it is really hard to negotiate all of the potholes.

People say that is the price you pay for living in the country. But most rural residents feel that they have paid the same taxes as suburban residents without similar benefits. Many rural families have paid taxes on their property for 20, 30, 40 years or more. The county should achieve better maintenance on gravel-dirt roads than current methods.

The county “powers that be” say dirt-gravel roads can only be paved if the residents vote on a “rural improvement district.” After a couple of meetings with our county commissioner and the roads department folks, and learning that a rural improvement district for our area would cost each parcel owner an average of $10,000 over a 10-year period on top of our recently raised taxes, the idea of ever having our roads paved faded away. But surely there is a more efficient way of maintaining the roads than ineffective, occasional light grading.

Contact correspondent Billie Martin by e-mail at

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