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I-Bar residents, county cooperate on potholes

Somehow it fits the beyond the grid, off-the-beaten-path lifestyle of those living beyond the pavement on Italian Bar Road.

Earlier this month, rather than waiting for the Tuolumne County Public Works Department to fill the potholes and cracks wrought by January's storms, about 40 neighbors got together and did it themselves.

Armed with pickup trucks, shovels, rakes and 12 tons of road base furnished by the county, the neighborhood crews hit the road on March 8 and by sunset had filled dozens of potholes and had saved the county thousands of dollars in labor and equipment costs.

"These people are resilient, resourceful and have put their money where their mouth is," said Barry Bynum, Tuolumne County's road superintendent. "This a great example of cooperation between the county and its residents."

It didn't start that way.

Last October about 50 Italian Bar residents met with county supervisors and road officials to ask that the dirt and gravel road's potholes be filled and that washboarding be smoothed out before the winter rains hit.

"We will do what we can with our limited resources," Bynum said at the time, pointing out that the annual maintenance budget for some 600 miles of county roads is $350,000.

The Union Democrat followed with an editorial arguing that Italian Bar Road, a 30-mile track linking Columbia and Twain Harte via Jupiter, "deserves no more attention than its mileage, population and traffic counts warrant."

Near Columbia, Italian Bar Road is traveled by about 1,000 cars and trucks a day. But beyond the pavement, counts plummet into the low hundreds. In contrast, three-mile-long Soulsbybville Road carries about 5,000 cars a day and is also in dire need of maintenance.

In determining what work to do and how much to pay for it, our editorial concluded, Public Works officials should make sure their decision is not only fair to the residents of Italian Bar Road, but to the many thousands of Tuolumne County taxpayers who don't live or drive on it.

Although a few I-Bar residents took exception to this reasoning, almost everyone living and driving on the road also took action:

• First they helped the Public Works Department identify the worst stretches of the road, which then became the targets of a pre-winter maintenance push.

By November, the county work was done. Resident Sandy Taylor said she was "thrilled" with what had been done, and others praised the speed and efficiency of the Public Works crews.

• In cooperation with the county, they also laid the groundwork for "pothole parties," such as the early March work day. The concept was simple: The county would supply the road base, and the residents would put in the labor.

"It saved us thousands of dollars," said Bynum.

Such savings may soon be essential: Unless lobbyists for Tuolumne and other rural counties across the nation are successful, the Secure Rural Schools and Self Determination Act will expire, and the road budget here will take a million-dollar 2008 hit. Although maintenance funds would not be wiped out altogether, funds would be cut.

No, neighbors will not gather to patch Tuolumne, Parrotts Ferry, Jamestown or other crowded county roads. But Bynum said residents of other isolated and lightly-traveled county roads would do well to follow the example set by those who live on Italian Bar.

By getting together and opening lines of communication with the county, they've made key improvements to their road and saved the Public Works Department much needed cash.

Finally, it's given new truth to an old saying: If you want something done, do it yourself.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.


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The Union Democrat 05/05/15

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