BROOKSVILLE — Hundreds of miles of unpaved, lime rock roads snake through Hernando County's rural neighborhoods, frequently bringing complaints of choking dust and washouts.
At long last, county officials believe they have a solution.
Last week, the county began seeking bids for a provider of reclaimed asphalt, chunks of material from old road projects and other sources. The bids are due in less than two weeks.
The county had asked the Florida Department of Transportation for the asphalt millings that their roadwork will generate during future projects in Hernando and surrounding counties. But the DOT notified the county that the material has too much value to the state, and that the agency would not provide it to the county.
During Tuesday's County Commission meeting, county transportation services director Brian Malmberg will present a proposal to use reclaimed asphalt, if an acceptable bid is received, to replace the lime rock on five roads in four separate areas of the county.
County staffers would then monitor the condition of the roads, watching for the formation of potholes or ruts, checking to see if loose material is moving around or if the edges of the roads are degrading.
The plan would be to track all of the material and labor costs for a 12-month period, then report back to the County Commission with a summary of the process, cost, potential benefits and disadvantages.
"Overcoming the expense and availability of the material have been the major hurdles in utilizing (reclaimed asphalt pavement) on a mass scale,'' county staffers wrote in backup materials provided to the County Commission. "A reduction in long-term maintenance cost does look promising, however.''
Lime rock road maintenance is a big-ticket item for the county. In one recent five-year period, the county spent $10.65 million for maintenance — $4.4 million in labor and $4.2 million in materials, with equipment making up the rest of the cost.
County officials will pick roads for their experiment that demonstrate some of the challenges faced by Transportation Services. High-volume roads, roads with poor drainage, and roads with hills and valleys and sharp curves will be included.
The idea is to get enough information to determine the kinds of road conditions where the reclaimed asphalt will work, according to Steve Whitaker, assistant public works director.
"We wanted to put a little more precision into how we were evaluating the product,'' Whitaker said.
County commissioners, who have heard complaints from lime rock road residents for years, have long looked for a way to address the problem.
So have many residents. But none has pushed for the use of asphalt millings like Spring Hill resident Ty Mullis.
Several years ago, Mullis and his neighbors on Orchard Way decided to use asphalt millings and recycled cooking oil to reconstruct their own 1-mile stretch of road.
Since then, he has tried to convince county officials that the millings would not only solve the vexing problems of lime rock dust, but also save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance of the roads.
Mullis said he was thrilled that the pilot program is coming to the commission and that the county is seeking a provider. He said he has heard of someone in the Tampa area who is interested to providing the materials, possibly at a cost as low as lime rock.
"I see this as a tremendous step forward, and I'm convinced this is going to improve the quality of life for the businesses and homeowners who are on lime rock roads,'' he said. "And I truly believe it's going to reduce the cost for maintenance.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.