By Gus Pearcy
LEBANON – Boone County, just northwest of Indianapolis, has more than 320 miles of gravel roads. So it’s no wonder the No. 1 request of the county highway department is converting the rocks to pavement.
“People don’t like driving on gravel roads,” Boone County Highway Department Director Nick Parr said. “People don’t like living on gravel roads. They don’t like to breathe dirty air. People don’t like to have their cars dirty and cars wear out a lot faster.”
Parr knows. He said he grew up on a gravel road and wouldn’t do it again. He understands and can sympathize with residents who want to get their roads converted, but says it takes money.
Paving a gravel road can cost about $125,000 per mile, and there isn’t tons of excess money in the budget to do that. Last year, no roads were converted. In 2019, only one mile of road was converted. Next year, Parr has enough money from a bond issue to pave up to 7 miles.
But which roads are chosen? How does the highway department choose which roads to convert?
There is a formula for getting your road paved, and chewing the ear of your local commissioner has nothing to do with it.
It’s called the Boone County Roadway Conversion Program, which scores each application for paving. Parr said the most important step is to apply for the conversion. So he eagerly talks about the program, which makes the decisions clear.
In his 15 years with the highway department, Parr said he’s heard it all when it comes to tactics people use to get their roads paved. One caller claimed the department was trying to kill her with the dust kicked up after grading. Another likened the potholes on his road to a third-world country.
Conversely, there are people who don’t want their roads paved.
“There are people right now that would fight it tooth and nail,” he said. “The thought is you get more traffic as soon as you make it blacktop and (the vehicles) go faster.”
The other argument is a paved road invites people to move in, and some residents like the uncluttered space.
Still, more people want the pavement. They want to live on a road with no dust, especially since dust control is not offered by the county.
The department faced a problem in choosing roads for conversion — chiefly, justifying the cost to the county council and the selection to the county commissioners. So two years ago, Parr and former highway department director Craig Parks devised a scoring system to justify conversions.
“We wanted to make it transparent and say this is the criteria,” Parr said. “We made it standardized, objective and transparent.”
Since then, more than 40 applications have been submitted, indicating the popularity of the topic.
Parr said the department deals with segments usually starting at a mile, typically between two intersections. Each petition must include a point person who communicates with the department.
After that, high scores move up the ladder based on eight features that are weighted in terms of importance. Six of the categories are based on road characteristics assigned by the Boone County Highway Department, which residents have little control over. However, there are two factors that are controlled by the road residents.
If only 100 cars travel the road in a day, it doesn’t make sense to put that ahead of a busier gravel road. The highway department determines ADT. Parr said a traffic count for 2019 applicants showed only one gravel road got more than 100.
“If (the road) gets above 500 cars a day, then you’re seeing a lot of effort on our part to take care of that road,” Parr said “Five hundred cars a day is a lot on a gravel road. That’s where it bends the threshold. That’s where it needs to be converted because we’re going to be out there working on it.”