The story of the ‘fair-weather’ roads
NEAR THE FLOYD-MONTGOMERY COUNTY LINE — If there is a blizzard here on Fishers View Mountain, state plows will not clear it.
If a tree falls, to borrow a phrase, the Virginia Department of Transportation will not hear it.
At least not at this time of year.
Fishers View Road is one of a half dozen roads in the New River and Roanoke valleys with a unique designation. They are part of the state system — but from November to April the state officially ignores them.
Call them fair-weather roads.
“They are VDOT-maintained roads,” explained Jason Bond, a spokesman for the highway department’s Salem district office. “We just don’t do winter maintenance on them.”
Jessica Metheny and her family live in the last house on the Shawsville side of the unmaintained section of Fishers View Road. The terrain is steep and thickly wooded, and even the maintained portion of the road is a one-lane gravel path.
Laughing, Metheny said that when she moved in five-and-a-half years ago, her mother — who’d lived in the small community of Hollybrook in Bland County — gave the neighborhood a once-over and pronounced that “When God comes, he’s going to forget you.”
But while Fishers View Mountain feels remote, it’s not so bad, Metheny said last week.
“It’s inconvenient when it comes to driving out, … but it’s peaceful,” she said.
A few sharp curves down the mountain, Jim Jachimski said he enjoyed having a relatively flat and well-maintained year-round road from his house out to Allegheny Springs and Shawsville. But he said he often traveled the unmaintained section, as well.
“I stay up there,” Jachimski said. “I hunt a lot.”
Though state crews stay away in winter months, the road is not closed.
“I can be in Floyd in 15 minutes,” Jachimski said, by going through the unmaintained section of Fishers View Road and cutting across to U.S. 220.
Of course, that’s in good weather. Once Fishers View Road is covered in snow or ice, it can be impassable for weeks, Jachimski said, echoing an evaluation given by others who live near the unmaintained section.
“It’s the dark side,” Jachimski said. “Sun don’t hit a lot of it.”
It is not the difficulty of winter maintenance, necessarily, that prompted the state to long-ago suspend operations on Fishers View Road and the others on the November-April list, Bond said.
The roads — one each in Montgomery, Pulaski, Giles, Craig, Roanoke and Botetourt counties — just don’t have any residences or active farmland along the sections that are not maintained.
It’s a list that hasn’t changed in decades, he said.
Dan Brugh, who oversaw VDOT’s Christiansburg residency office for more than 20 years before retiring in 2003, agreed.
Brugh said he took periodic traffic counts as part of his job to make sure more effort shouldn’t be put into upgrading and maintaining the fair-weather roads.
But the vehicle counts didn’t increase. And while crews would have responded to an emergency, there just wasn’t any reason to put a lot of effort into winter upkeep, Brugh said.
“We’re not going to go up and spend days opening a road from 2 feet of snow that has nobody traveling on it,” Brugh said. “I think the whole thing was set up to make sure you weren’t spending money doing things you didn’t have to do.”
Erika Johnson, who with her partner, Kris Hodges, created and oversees the annual FloydFest music extravaganza, has lived most of her life on the Pilot side of Fishers View Mountain.
Johnson said she has girlhood memories of falling asleep as her parents drove up Fishers View Road on the way home from outings, then “waking up because we’re in a ditch and they’re shoveling, putting branches or gravel down under the wheels so we can go out.”
“I’ve become terrified of that road from November to May,” Johnson said.
Her family called the unmaintained section “the backside,” and Johnson said the road over the mountain toward Shawsville still “is insanely different from the other direction where it gets sun.”
But as long as temperatures have been above freezing for a few weeks, she and Hodges use the road regularly as a shortcut to Roanoke, Johnson said.
Joyce and Charles Horner, who for 25 years have lived closest to the unmaintained section on the Pilot side, said they also often drive the unmaintained section to get to Roanoke. It cuts 20 minutes from a wider, paved route through Pilot and Christiansburg, Joyce Horner said.
Like others on Fishers View Road, Horner said she appreciated the privacy that the lack of maintenance helps foster.
“That’s one of the reasons we live here,” she said. “When we moved to the country, we wanted to live in the country.”
Her husband agreed.
“I grew up in the woods, and I’m used to living in the woods,” Charles Horner said. “Nobody bothers you, but if you need some help, somebody will help you.”
Like the other residents contacted for this story, Horner said he isn’t looking for any more state maintenance.
Informed drivers carry chainsaws when they travel Fishers View Road in the winter, he said.
“If a tree falls across it, it don’t last long.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-1669
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