Rural roads conditions quickly becoming county’s top priority

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The tone was civil but the message blunt during Monday’s county board meeting -- rural roads throughout Hamilton County are downright dangerous.
Hearing complaints about the lack of gravel or maintenance on specific county roads is commonplace in rural Nebraska, though clearly this year is different. A brutally cold winter followed by massive amounts of spring rain have wreaked havoc on rural roads throughout Nebraska and the Midwest. That is nobody’s fault.
Hamilton County is certainly no exception to these brutal conditions, though some area residents testified that adjacent counties are handling the same challenges more effectively. A drive through the country illustrates why there is such grave concern.
Some roads have little or no gravel on them, ruts measure as much as six to eight inches deep and in many places streams of water have created huge potholes or crevices. It’s challenging enough for an experienced driver out on a hot dry day in a four-wheel drive vehicle, but changing those variables to include more rain, inexperience behind the wheel, night-time driving and/or heavy ag equipment creates potential for tragedy.
Public safety is statutorily one of the county’s top priorities, which board chairman Rich Nelson reiterated Monday when he reported that the board is now spending more time reviewing roads, personnel, equipment and procedures. That’s encouraging, especially after learning that the county roads crew currently has several vacant positions. With 1,100 miles of gravel roads in the county and Mother Nature only making matters worse, it’s going to require as many people and resources as the county can make available to turn the corner and make a meaningful difference.
Listening carefully during Monday’s meeting, one of the best points made was a call to adapt to the current conditions. Taking the same approach knowing that there currently aren’t enough man-hours or gravel being applied to get back to some sense of normal will only add fuel to the fire.
Better communication on how the county is using its resources and what the plans are going forward to address rural road conditions will also be critical as there was clearly a lack of confidence Monday from area farmers wanting and needing to understand what steps are being taken. A roads report should be a weekly county agenda item for the foreseeable future, with details shared as to what is being done.
It’s important that the search for solutions to this dilemma reflect a “we” conversation rather than an us versus them mentality. Serving on the county board and roads crew is often a thankless job. Those folks need to know they have the support and resources needed to get the job done.
Kurt Johnson

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