County: Road too costly to maintain

A mule deer pauses in the North Fork wintering range. Biologists say increased traffic will result in more roadkills.

By JARED MILLER - Staff Writer

Flathead County's road supervisor was on hand at Tuesday's meeting to discuss possible improvement alternatives for the North Fork Road.

Supervisor Charles Johnson said the county's maintenance costs on the road have increased from $50,000 per year to about $70,000 annually over the last five years. The county maintains 57 miles of the North Fork Road.

"Our maintenance up there is increasing considerably," Johnson said. "My bosses feel paving would be the most viable option (to control maintenance costs)."

If the road is paved, the county will request that state money be used to maintain it.

Road maintenance on the North Fork Road involves snow plowing two to three times per week and sanding in the winter as well as application of gravel and other dirt work in the summer.

In 1982, the North Fork Road was improved with a raised bed and added culverts, said Rod Hickle, of the U.S. Forest Service, who was also at Tuesday's meeting. Since then the road's gravel cover has eroded.

Additionally, the county doesn't own any gravel in the North Fork area, all maintenance materials are hauled from either Kalispell or Columbia Falls, a costly process, Johnson said. Increased requests for road maintenance in other parts of the county are also putting a burden on the road department, he said.

"We don't see that we can afford to maintain that road," he said.

In addition, gravel being applied to the road now carries the maximum amount of binding material which hold the gravel together, Johnson said. In time, that binder becomes silt in the river.

"Every year we haul additional gravel up there, but its futile," he said.

Johnson said a lack of funding has also prevented his department from addressing problems with dust on the North Fork Road. The cost of "dust oil" is too high and the current condition of the road's top gravel layer won't allow proper application of magnesium chloride as a solution.

"Magnesium chloride has worked in the past, but with the current road condition it won't last," Johnson said.

According to Johnson, at the same time that maintenance on the North Fork Road falls further behind, traffic on the road increases by 10 percent each year.

During a six-day-week in September, 1998 2,140 vehicles traveled the road south of Big Creek. North of there, 1,901 vehicles drove it.

Johnson said his department has plans to measure traffic figures at least three times per year in the future to collect more data.