Fifteen years ago, when Ty Mullis bought his home on Orchard Way, he knew he was buying on a lime rock road.
What he didn't realize was exactly what it is like to live on a lime rock road.
As anyone whose home is along the county's 375 miles of public, unpaved roads knows, lime rock dust coats everything from cars to vegetation. Mail carriers and garbage truck employees often wear masks to protect themselves from the floating particulates.
Residents who live on lime rock roads complain about health issues that affect them and their children and the driving challenges of potholes.
All of that bothered Mullis, but so did the price tag the county faces annually maintaining, grading, adding lime rock and fixing washouts on those roads.
From July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, the county spent $1.82 million for lime rock road grading. In the past five years, the cost of grading lime rock roads totaled $10.65 million. Labor costs alone were $4.4 million, and materials $4.2 million, with equipment making up the remainder.
One afternoon a few years ago, Mullis and some of his friends were having a social gathering and began to discuss what they could do to improve their quality of life, without spending a fortune.
What grew from that gathering — and a lot of research and hard work since then — was a neighborhood project that might have implications for thousands of Hernando residents living on similar roads.
The answer, according to Mullis, is recycled asphalt from roadwork and in roofing shingles. Combine those raw ingredients with recycled cooking oil and the result is a surface that doesn't produce clouds of dust and doesn't require constant grading and rock replacement.
The success on Orchard Way has caught the attention of some Hernando officials. On Tuesday, the County Commission will discuss a memorandum of agreement asking that the state Department of Transportation provide the county with the asphalt millings produced from state road projects in and near Hernando County.
The recycled asphalt is what Mullis and his neighbors used themselves four years ago to improve their road, which is north of County Line Road between Waterfall Drive and Mariner Boulevard. Mullis has pushed ever since for the county to consider the alternative for other lime rock roads.
"My main goal has been to find an alternative to lime rock that costs the same or is cheaper,'' he said. "That's going to improve the quality of life for people who live and work on unpaved roads.''
As Mullis rounded the corner in his truck, he hit a small patch of lime rock road and generated a cloud of the familiar dust. Just a few yards down, he pulled the truck over to show off what he considers the best patch of Orchard Way — the section his neighborhood work crew built, the stretch where all of the trial and error finally became a hard, dust-free surface.
"This is what I envision for all of Hernando County's unpaved roads,'' he said, pointing to the road, which was the color of worn asphalt and polka-dotted with speckles of aggregate, including crushed concrete and pieces of barrel tile roofing material.
The patch of remaining lime rock, which is where the neighborhood ran out of alternative resurfacing supplies, is a small reminder of what Mullis and his neighbors used to have to deal with.
Compared to a lime rock road, which needs regrading and new material every couple of months, Orchard Way has never been graded since the neighborhood's work was completed. While it has developed some potholes, Mullis insists that if the road had been built 3 inches deep instead of the 1 inch he and his neighbors built, it would be a good shape.
It took months of weekend work to complete the 1-mile road and about $12,000 in materials. Compared to the bill to lay asphalt on a road under the county's special benefits process — which could run $10,000 per large lot in a neighborhood like his — Mullis said the price is quite a deal.
"With no labor costs, it's easy to make it that cheap,'' he said.
The neighbors improvised on the equipment and at one point even devised a "dust-o-meter" to measure how much lime rock dust was in the air.
"It's a significant issue, and something has to be done,'' Mullis said.
The neighbors rigged up a batch plant using an agricultural feed mixer. They traced down a road roller in Oregon and pulled heavy drag boxes down the road during construction.
"Sixty-two was the median age of our road crew, and the 62-year-olds put me to shame,'' said Mullis, who works as a project manager at A Civil Design Group.
Along the way, the neighbors got to know one another.
"We're a very close-knit neighborhood because of this,'' Mullis said. "They know I haven't given up.''
There was just one concern after the paving was finished.
"The dogs were very interested in the road,'' he said. "It does smell like french fries for the first couple of days.''
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Mullis said he and his neighbors ran across an article about the process online. He called the company in Georgia that had come up with the idea of mixing millings and recycled oil.
It's long been known that millings can be used in road surfaces. The Georgia company discovered the value of adding the oil, Mullis said.
To demonstrate the action between the recycled oil and the recycled asphalt, Mullis takes a mason jar with millings and pours vegetable oil on top. Before long, the oil is working on the millings, breaking them down, softening them.
That's what happens on the road, he explained.
The same holds true for recycled shingles, another material that Mullis said would be far better for road treatment than dusty lime rock.
Switching from lime rock to the recycled asphalt for its unpaved roads could save the county $750,000 a year several years after the phasing in of the new materials, Mullis has estimated.
Much of the savings would come by cutting the cost of labor. The only new equipment needed might be a spray truck to apply the oil.
Indian River County doesn't use the oil, but has spread millings on some of its unpaved roads, according to Terry Cook, superintendent of the county's road and bridge department.
"Our experience here has been positive,'' Cook said.
For the last several years, the Indian River road department has compacted millings on some unpaved roads, and only one has needed to be milled again. Cook puts down about 8 inches of millings, but, unlike the Orchard Way project, those millings are both the base and the surface of the road.
In Indian River, the millings are plentiful, coming from asphalt plants in the area. They cost $6 a ton. Lime rock hasn't been used there because of the dust and because it is not available nearby.
In Hernando County, lime rock is readily available, and the county is paying $8 a ton. If commissioners decide to ask for state road project millings and the state agrees, it could go a long way toward resolving the county's lime rock road problems, Mullis said.
Future county road projects could also generate millings. Generally, a road contractor keeps the millings from a job. They can be used in other ways, including as a component in hot-mix paving operations.
Mullis suggests that, in the future, Hernando's road projects could be bid two ways — one with the contractor keeping the millings and the other with the county keeping the millings. The county could then choose which is the better deal, compared to the cost of maintaining lime rock roads.
"I'm very interested in it,'' as long as using the millings is cheaper than lime rock road maintenance, said commission Chairman Jim Adkins.
He said the key would be availability of the materials. But with the major widening project on Cortez Boulevard just over a year away and other ongoing projects on state roads, he thought the timing of the request to the state was good.
While there would be no way to get enough millings to do all of the lime rock roads in the county, Adkins said a priority system could be established, possibly based on traffic flows.
If the process worked well, he said, residents probably would be lined up to have their roads surfaced.
He said he thought the process "would be a good fit, especially on lime rock roads on a hill or where there is a problem with washouts.''
The county is also analyzing other alternatives for unpaved roads, including the use of calcium chloride. But Adkins said that would be a bad idea because the salt would begin to rust out vehicles.
Mullis said he would not want to see those alternatives either because there would environmental questions, plus the continued maintenance costs that would not be required with millings.
"If we can do this even more cost effectively," he said, "I'd like to hear the argument to change my mind.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.