Drought plays havoc with Fort Bend Roads

18 08 2011

The extreme heat and the lack of rain is beginning to take its toll on area roadways.  B.J. Pollock, correspondent with the Houston Chronicle, wrote an article that was published yesterday detailing the problems caused by the drought conditions; and as you will not in reading her article below, the problems will probably get worse before they get better.  As reported by Ms. Pollock:

The extended drought conditions in Texas have caused problems with some rural roads in Fort Bend County as the shifting dry ground splits open the pavement.

In addition, the drought has led to an extension of a county burn ban that has been in effect since April.

“Dry weather is the worst for roads; it takes a toll,” said County Road Commissioner Marc Grant. “The bad part is, when we do start getting rain, it’ll go down in the cracks to the subgrade and mess it up.”

Grant said the subgrade lies beneath the lime that is under the top layer of pavement, and that many long cracks are several feet deep.

Deterioration caused by moisture starts at the subgrade level and progresses to the surface. While reinforcement bars keep concrete roads from fracturing a little less than asphalt roads, it’s all susceptible to the drought.

“There’s just about no way to keep the roads from cracking anymore,” Grant said. “We’re going out every day, sealing cracks. You can’t seal all the cracks, but you try to seal as many as you possibly can.”

Crews are concentrating on the more well-traveled roads, and Grant said they’ve been repairing fissures for months. Of course, that takes money.

“The longer the drought, the more the monetary impact,” he said. “It’s financially a huge burden, and we won’t know the financial impact until after the rains come through.”

In some places, the sides of the roads appear to falling off. In those cases, said Grant, “When it rains, it’ll fall even more. Then we’ll come back and build it back up.”

He said the root systems of grass that’s popping up in many of the cracks actually helps hold the roads together.

“We’re always looking for new ways to seal cracks; ways that will help the integrity of our roadways,” he said. “I tell everybody, ‘If you can find a way to seal crack in this region, you’re going to make lots of money.'”

County commissioners enacted a burn ban April 26 and extended it at their July 12 meeting.

County Fire Marshal Vance Cooper said burn bans are only good for 90 days and then must be voted on again. He also said it would take about 10 inches of rain across the county to lift the ban.

Cooper said the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index, which is a scale for estimating the dryness of soil, shows Fort Bend County to be at 705, with any number higher than 500 indicating need for a burn ban. The scale runs from zero to 800. The higher the number, the more dry it is.

“In talking with the Forest Service, if we got an inch of rain, we’d be good for about 24 hours and then we’d basically be back to where we are now,” he said. “This drought did not happen overnight. It took several years to get where we are and it’ll take several years to get out.

 
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