A country homestead comes with charms. Open spaces for horseback riding or ATV adventures. Quiet nights, minus the whirring of automobile engines. Uninterrupted hills and valleys. Wildlife. Streams. Gardens.
But the dust, the chipped pickup paint and the damaged tires associated with gravel roads leave many county residents begging, even paying, for some asphalt.
Cape Girardeau County's highway department recently started preparing roads for its 2004 paving program.
County roads 318, 601, 360-361, and a few patches in the Millersville area are on the schedule to be paved this year. In addition to those areas, many other stretches have been scheduled for grading, which will prepare the roads for future paving.
Commissioner Larry Bock, who oversees roads, said the county pays for its paving program with the interest it earns from the $5 million the county has in reserves. He said the low interest has limited the number of paving projects the county has been able to do over the last few years.
The county's road-paving policy has come under fire, however, because monetary donations are considered when prioritizing projects.
For instance, residents along County Road 603 off Route 177 near Fruitland say their road needs improved for safety reasons. A narrow gravel road atop a steep hill makes for dangerous driving conditions.
Meanwhile, a group of property owners along County Road 360 paid roughly $5,000 to the county and got their project moved up to this year.
The county's written policy on determining its paving and improvement schedule says many things are considered when choosing roads. First, the property owners must petition the county and complete an informational packet. The landowners must agree to give 100 percent of the easements.
County highway superintendent Scott Bechtold said more easements have recently been donated to the county along County Road 603 and some future improvements may be made there.
'No hard-set formula'
He said the county considers traffic counts and the files that have been at the county for the longest period of time. The policy also says that cost-sharing "may improve" the county's ability to improve the road.
"We do look at other things like safety," Bechtold said. "If we get the easements, there is no hard-set formula."
Roland Sander, who owns several acres of property along county roads 360 and 361, said the property owners in the area had wanted the road paved for quite a few years.
He said everyone agreed to give the easements a year ago.
"To get the ball rolling, we contributed funds," Sander said. "We put up quite a bit of money to get the project going. The county didn't require it, but recommended it."
Sander also said that the property owners would pull the money off the table if the road wasn't paved in 2004.
Bock said that in some cases county roads have not been improved because the property owners have not yet donated easements.
He said the county no longer improves or paves one small, single stretch of road. The improvement must start at a paved section of road or intersection for the improvement to be considered. And all improvements that don't include paving are geared toward paving the road in the future.
The county maintains roughly 420 miles of roads with about 100 miles of paved roads. Bock said it costs the county $75,000 per mile for 2.5-inch paving.
For 2004, the county has budgeted $250,000 for road paving. Bechtold said the county will soon put the paving out for bid.