Residents list merits of paving Wilhite Road

The project’s completion could depend on a road sales tax extension.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:00 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

A full-size van pulled out of Woodlandville United Methodist Church after a pickup truck on Sunday evening, but the usual cloud of dust that can blur a driver’s vision on Wilhite Road was held down by dampness from the morning’s rain.

The 15 or so neighbors leaving the church still didn’t know the fate of their road, but at least they knew they had been heard after spending about an hour talking with Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson and Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin, who had come to gather public opinion and answer questions about possible improvements to Wilhite. While most of those at the meeting said they want to see the road paved, others said they’d rather it keep its country character.

Wilhite Road serves as a connector between routes E and J in northwestern Boone County, about halfway between Columbia and Harrisburg. Because of its collector status and its traffic count of at least 250 cars per day, it meets county standards for some sort of improvement, whether paving or chip-and-seal surfacing. Yet it has remained on the list of possible projects for nearly a decade.

Elkin said the improvements will be made; it’s only a question of when.

“It’s not always black and white, but to answer your question, it meets all the criteria,” Elkin told the neighbors.

Paving the road could easily cost several hundred thousand dollars, Elkin said, and whether the project gets done might depend on the extension of the county’s sales tax for roads. The project would start in January 2008, he said, if it makes it into the budget for next year.

“Wilhite is a long road, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” Elkin said. “Our revenues are not keeping up with our expenses, just like your household. ...You have to do more with less, and we’re in the same boat.”

Elkin said county officials are working on the budget process for roads to ensure that a group of big projects such as Wilhite Road aren’t pushed into one fiscal year.

“We’re trying to change the process. The government is hog-tied. ... We can’t budget out more than a year,” Elkin said. “Budget has a lot to do with it.”

Pearson also talked about the change in process.

“Our philosophy is: ‘If you tell them something, then you need to follow through.’ ... We can’t meet all the promises ever made, but that is what we’re working to,” he said.

Janice Critchfield, whose mother lives on Wilhite Road, said dust alone should be reason enough to pave Wilhite.

Kent Strawn, who uses the road when he works, doesn’t want to see the road paved. He said everyone has an opinion, not just those who live on Wilhite.

“It’s a huge speed issue,” Strawn said. “You’ve got farm equipment, tractors, on a road in the country, and it’s dangerous. If you don’t want dust, move to the city.”

Tom Howard agreed, pointing to increased speed as his main concern.

“My daughter used to ride this road on horseback,” he said. “I’d be afraid to let a kid walk it today.”

Jenny Clark, one of the growing number of people who use Wilhite for recreation, said that is why the road should be surfaced.

“Folks that speed on Wilhite will speed anyway, but I won’t have to get hit in the head with rocks. There won’t be any spray ... and if they try to stop, they won’t fishtail. Fishtailing, as a runner, that’s a real problem for me,” Clark said. “I’ll take blacktop any day if a car is going 70 mph, because at least they can stop.”

Pearson said the meeting was vital to gauge community opinion, but there is much left to consider.

“It’s really important, when we have government that is responsive, that we can have these meetings so you can tell us what you need,” Pearson said. “I wanted to gather as much information as possible.”

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