Condon on a mission to pave dirt roads

Clay County Commission Chair Betsy Condon tells the Keystone Heights Rotary Club about her crusade to pave dirt roads throughout her district. Photo: Dan Hildebran, Telegraph-Times-Monitor General Manager.


Telegraph-Times-Monitor General Manager

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS— County Commission Chair Betsy Condon reported to the Keystone Heights Rotary Club about the county’s recently completed dirt road study.

The Crystal Lake resident said improving dirt roads was a top priority when she first ran for the county commission and remains a top priority now that she is chair.

Condon said many residents who live on dirt roads would like the county to pave the thoroughfares.  However, others, like residents along County Road 315, Sharron Road between State Road 16 near Belmore and State Road 21 at the county fairgrounds, would like their roads to remain dirt because paving the road would convert it into a high-speed cut-through from Green Cove Springs to the Lake Region.

“They don’t want the road improved,” Condon said, “but they want better drainage. And they have to understand at some point that (Sharron Road) will be an evacuation route because of State Road 16. There are only certain ways you can route people from Green Cove.”

Must have 60 feet

Condon said that for the county to pave any road, it must have a minimum of 60 feet of right of way.

“We have to be able to put in two 11-foot lanes, a six-inch lime rock base… and then an inch-and-a-half of asphalt,” she said. “We also have to stabilize the shoulders and have drainage on the sides.”

Condon added that having single-member districts on the county commission makes it more challenging for her to get funding for dirt road paving.

She noted that 71% of the dirt roads in Clay County are in her district: the Keystone Heights and Middleburg areas.

“When you need three votes to pass anything on the county commission, it’s doubtful you’re getting much money put towards paving when it doesn’t impact the other districts,” she said.  

Condon also said that with 20% of District 4’s population at or below the poverty line, her district has the lowest tax base in the county.

One road a year

“In the last two years that I’ve been on the commission, we’ve paved one road a year,” Condon said. “We’ve had half a million dollars in the budget and paved one road per year. The first year it was a road in Commissioner Burke’s district, and then last year, it was Rosemary Street (in the Middleburg area).

Condon said one thing the study revealed that helps her argument with other commissioners is the high cost of grading, which she said is $4,000 a mile.

“That’s good news for those of us who live here because nobody had done the math, and I kept saying it costs more money to grade than we realize,” she said.  

The commissioner added that finding reliable and skilled grader operators is difficult and getting more challenging.

Condon said that two roads that score high on the county’s priority list are Spring Lake Road, in the area of State Road 21 and County Road 352, and King Street, which runs north off State Road 100 near McDonald’s and leads to the Lake Brooklyn Boat Ramp.

When asked why the roads in High Ridge Estates did not make the list, Condon responded that those roads are private and the county has no obligation to maintain them. 

“That goes back to the seventies when the developer walked away and left the subdivision incomplete,” she said, “and it’s a nightmare.”

A huge jump

Condon said that in fiscal year 2023-2024, the county plans to pave six dirt roads, five of which are in District 4.

“That’s a huge jump in the amount that I’ve been able to influence my fellow commissioners to agree to,” she said.  

Condon said the county’s engineering director, Richard Smith, a 1980 Bradford High School graduate, has also helped her persuade other commissioners to follow her plan.

“He grew up in Bradford County,” Condon said. “He understands our way of life, and he’s trying to really help me out.”

Condon added that she and County Manager Howard Wanamaker had discussed following the lead of Nassau and St. Johns counties, which floated bond issues and used the proceeds to pave all the dirt roads in their respective counties.

“Well, bonding has gotten very expensive in the last 15 months because interest rates have gone up so much,” she said, “so that’s kind of off the table.”

Condon said another viable alternative is using millings to shore up existing dirt roads.

“A lot of roads that wouldn’t necessarily make it to the paving list are going to be addressed with millings,” she said.

Please complain

Condon said that one way Lake Region residents can help her in her road paving crusade is to complain about the condition of their roads.

She added that complaints about trash pickup, road conditions, and other problems make a difference and get a response from county government.

“If the Amazon driver can’t get to your house because of flooding… they’re going to go out and pay attention to that,” Condon said of the county’s public works department. She added that multiple complaints about a particular road may move that road up on the county’s maintenance priority list.

Condon said the county’s free smartphone app: Clay Connected, is a good way to report problems to the county.