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No easy answers to road woes
Milhorn Drive needs work, official says county can't help
Leon Koger shows Milhorn Drive, a half-mile of red dirt — more often mud — with pot holes and puddles. He and other residents on the road are trying to get it improved, without success. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, April 6, 2014
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
When someone uses the expression “40 miles of bad road,” they probably have something like Milhorn Drive in mind.
On March 25, Wanda Kosterlytzky, who owns property on Milhorn Drive, attended the monthly Henry County Board of Supervisors meeting to request help getting the road into the state secondary road system, allowing it to become paved and state maintained.
Milhorn Drive connects to Deer Trail Road in the Reed Creek District of the county.
Lee Clark, Henry County director of planning, zoning and inspections, said the process of adding a road to the state secondary road system is long and involved.
Clark also talked about the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Rural Rustic Road Program and the Rural Addition Program. The first program, he said, was intended for roads already in the state system, while the latter program has not been funded by the county in roughly 14 years.
Ultimately, he said at the meeting, the only viable option was for Milhorn Drive to be privately maintained by the residents. The supervisors took no action at the meeting.
Kosterlytzky is not giving up, and neither is Milhorn Drive resident Leon Koger, who also attended the March 25 meeting.
When he bought his home on Milhorn Drive 36 years ago, Koger said, the road wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now. But after decades of use by the residents of the eight homes on the road and no professional attention, its condition has deteriorated.
Today, Milhorn Drive is a half-mile of red dirt — more often mud — with pot holes and puddles. In some places, it’s so steep that Koger could not drive up it recently without putting his truck in four-wheel drive.
The winter before last, he said, a local oil company tried to deliver heating oil to a home on Milhorn Drive, only to get its delivery truck stuck halfway up the hill.
“It took half a day to get it unstuck and get it back,” he said, “and they said they would never bring any more (oil) up there until something was done about the road.”
Both Koger and Kosterlytzky said many residents who don’t have four-wheel drive vehicles have developed a ritual to get up the hill. They back their cars down a long driveway facing the road’s entrance, hit the gas and try to build up enough momentum to crest the hill without getting stuck.
“You’re flying across the bumps,” Kosterlytzky said. “If you don’t chip a tooth, you’re lucky.”
Often, Koger said, Milhorn Drive residents simply park along the side of the road and walk to their homes.
“My wife is a nurse,” Koger said. She came in one night and she couldn’t drive to the house because of the mud. “She had to roll her nursing uniform up and take her shoes off and walk home in the slop barefoot so she wouldn’t ruin her shoes and her clothes.”
While it’s an inconvenience for residents not to be able to drive to their homes, the greater concern, Kosterlytzky said, is that in the event of an emergency, no fire truck, ambulance or police car would be able to get anywhere close to the homes at the road’s end.
In fact, she said, when her father was ill many years ago, a driver for a local pharmacy was unable to deliver medication to his home. Koger met the driver at the foot of the hill and delivered the medication himself.
He had to drive his tractor to make that delivery.
No one is entirely sure how old Milhorn Drive is, but Kosterlytzky said it once connected Deer Trail Road to Oak Level Road. The connection to Oak Level Road now is overgrown and inaccessible — Koger said he believes it was closed off in the 1940s or early 1950s — yet GPS and online maps still show it connecting to Oak Level Road.
“There was a guy that came up here a couple of years ago,” Koger said, “and he said he was trying to get to Greensboro and his GPS sent him through here.”
Another lost traveler, Kosterlytzky said, got stuck on Milhorn Drive several weeks ago during a winter storm and had to seek help from one of the local residents.
“I’m looking for help and solutions,” Kosterlytzky said. “Nobody on the road wants to create a problem for the (county) administration. ... Let’s talk about solutions, not looking at what was done in the past, but what we can do now.”
No Easy Answers
Unfortunately, according to Clark, there are no easy answers to the Milhorn Drive situation.
The Rural Addition Program might have helped at one time, Clark said, but the county has not funded the program for more than a decade.
“The program still exists on the state level,” he said. “It hasn’t gone away. But the county made a fiscal decision roughly 14 years ago to spend that money we were spending toward the Rural Addition Program on economic development.”
“The county is enabled to take 5 percent of their state secondary road allocation and put it toward the Rural Addition Program,” Clark said. “That 5 percent only covers the construction costs of the road, and there are a lot of other things that go into preparing to build a road other than just the construction costs. Those things cannot be paid for with Rural Addition money. That’s where the local funds come in. That’s 100 percent local taxpayer money, general fund money, that has to pay for things that are required, like surveying, engineering, calculating where and what size drainage easements are required, any utility relocations that would be required to build the road and the creation of a 50-foot public right of way.”
Those additional costs, Clark said, easily could double the cost of the project. Construction of the road itself, Clark previously had estimated, could cost between $60,000 and $100,000.
Also, he said, the required 50-foot public right of way can be difficult to obtain, especially when it cuts a chunk out of a resident’s property.
Clark said that if Milhorn residents want to have the road graded, graveled or paved themselves, they are welcome to do so, “as long as those owners understood that they’re not bringing the road to a standard that VDOT would potentially take into the state system. But if someone wants to pave or maintain these access ways to whatever standard they want to maintain them to, that’s their right to do so.”
However, it would have to be done by the residents, he said, because the county does not maintain private roads. There are more than 700 privately maintained roads in Henry County, Clark said.
“Some of them are really nicely maintained,” he said, “and some of them are not. It would be extremely difficult to determine how to (choose which private roads to maintain) fairly and equitably. If you do that for one, you pretty much have to be willing to do that for anybody that was in a similar circumstance.”
Added Clark, “The county, as much as they would love to, can’t afford to bring all these private roads up to state specifications and have them taken into the state secondary road system.”
When the Rural Addition Program was being extensively used, Clark said, the county had more industry, and therefore had more discretionary money in its budget. That no longer is the case, and the county must choose projects carefully.
Still, the residents of Milhorn Drive hold out hope that something can be done.
“There are grants somewhere, if we can just get somebody to help us to get some,” Koger said. “We’re not looking for a superhighway. All we need is some help.”