To Pave or Not to Pave Our Rural Roads

On July 28, 2004, the Selectman held a public hearing to discuss the merits of paving over the last of our dirt roads versus leaving them as dirt roads.

Invited guest speakers were Bernie Waugh, author of the excellent A Hard Road to Travel, and Paul Brown, an engineer consulting for UNH's Technology Transfer Center, where they teach road gangs how to build roads.

The longwinded Brown held forth at length in tiresome and pedantic fashion, treating the selectmen as if they were his pupils, prompting them to answer his questions designed to elicit the answers he wanted, which were all aimed at getting the selectmen to see that paving over every "crappy" dirt road was the way to go. Joan Funk was an eager student, answering his leading probes.

And Matt Scruton picked up anything Brown said to justify yet again more harping on Matt's current Mission as selectman—i.e., getting the Meaderboro widened, straightened, paved from end to end, so that it will be "safe" and property values will soar, and tax revenues will flow into the town coffers and—one can only presume from his obsession to pave—Matt's lands will be set up nicely for housing development.

After a year in office, young Scruton isn't showing a whole hell of a lot of subtlety or depth of thought, but rather—especially in his determination to make a superhighway out of the Meaderboro Road—exhibits a sheep-like willingness to follow Hiram "One-Note" Watson who, thirteen years ago, chose to build his house on the Meaderboro but who now, hiding behind his elderly neighbors, fusses about the dangers of the road dust to their fragile health.


Young Matt also demonstrates an apparent unwillingness to study up and learn a few facts, and a vindictiveness against anyone who questions his decisions and notions, and is always on guard, unwilling, as selectman, to explain his positions and decisions or be held accountable to the citizens for them. Here is a photo of Matt "The Shy" Scruton, taken at the hearing, hiding his face, as he, alone among all our board members, does when the camera zeroes in on him. It is interesting to note that here he is hiding behind a printout of chapter VIII of Bernie Waugh's book, A Hard Road to Travel. That chapter is titled "27 Potholes to Avoid on the Route to a Rational Road System". You might almost think that Matt is immersed in studying Waugh's "potholes"—perhaps even the point Waugh makes that wide and straight and paved are not the ingredients for country roads. I suppose we can hope that Matt studies Waugh's points, though we oughtn't hold our breaths on that one.

Bernie Waugh addressed some of the "myths" about the wonders and benefits of paved roads. Selectman Paula Proulx, listening carefully, as always, questioned Brown's assertion that paving all roads is a good thing, pointing out that developers like to have paved roads to build on, and then come the attendant expenses of new development. Jerry McCarthy picked up on various assertions about the virtues of paved roads, as did Paul Parker. Only Matt, lagging behind as usual, picked up on Brown's assertion that increased traffic warranted paving the Meaderboro (while Jerry and Paula, having actually studied Waugh's "Potholes", pointed out that traffic would increase greatly if you pave that road, which is already being used as a short cut to Rochester and points beyond by people coming from Alton, New Durham, and Barnstead). When Paul ("Pave Every Road") Brown said increased traffic tells you to pave a road, Matt—again, grasping—asked Clark Hackett how many cars travel over the Meaderboro each day. Clark guessed there might be as many as 400-600 cars per day travelling the road. Matt just about leaped out of his seat, barely containing a triumphant grin, having nailed (so he figured) the "fact" he needed to justify laying down the asphalt. (NOTE: on Friday, August 6, some residents of the Meaderboro Road conducted a 12-hour traffic count.)

Jerry McCarthy neatly cleared up one ongoing point about liability by asking Bernie Waugh, who's a lawyer, if the town could be sued because of the dust stirred up by cars traveling over a dirt road. Waugh pretty much dismissed the concern about liability—pretty much dismissing the hue and cry to straighten, widen, pave and kill the dust on the back roads before someone sues the town.

As the meeting progressed, planner Steve Whitman, who is helping the ZAMPS committee with the Master Plan rewrite, reinforced the points Bernie Waugh makes in his "Potholes," and Brad Anderson, cutting right to the chase, neatly and effectively challenged Brown about the figures he came up with to "prove" that paving is cheaper than not paving. Read here the latest Anderson Paper, Follow Narrow Roads, Not the Narrow-minded, for more details about all this.

Jane Wingate read a letter to the selectmen that was based on a conversation with Pete Prentiss, road agent of Sandwich, to illustrate how another New Hampshire town maintains their roads. Jane passed around photos of the Sandwich roads, and for comparison, some photos showing the havoc that's been wrought on the Meaderboro Road.

What the people Hiram Watson got to sign a petition to pave the whole Meaderboro Road have not considered is that if the road were to be paved, the traffic would increase far beyond what it is now. Those of us who live close to the road have noticed a huge increase in the volume of traffic, much of which is, as said above, using the road as a short cut to Rochester and other places. Give those short-cutters a paved surface, and the traffic will surely increase so that we might as well be living on the a superhighway—a monster of our own making. And then, we can be sure, developers will start the process of clogging up what's left of the road with development, enticing people with a wide straight ribbon of asphalt running through our countryside.

And then, since we all know it is people who bring problems, those same people who demand that the road be paved, will be clamoring for more policemen to patrol the road, to come to pinch the people who discover all this new development and find it ripe pickings for robberies and other crime. And let's not forget the need for more classrooms and more school buses, and an expanded fire department. Not the least of it all is the destruction of what little rural character our town has—the destruction of the soothing sense we all get when we drive over a "back road" that appeals to a longing in us for a time when life was slower-paced, simpler, safer, and less urbanized.

People attending the workshop

[Ernie] [Patty, Clark, and Paul Brown] [Paul]
Ernie Patty, Clark, and Paul Brown Paul
[Hiram] [Cyndi and Sue] [Alicia]
Hiram Cyndi and Sue Alicia
[Gary] [Paul Brown, Lynn] [Paula]
Gary Paul Brown and Lynn Paula
[Leslie and Larry]
Leslie and Larry