From paved to gravel, a rural road stirs debate

Dixie Valley Road, State Route 121, Churchill County, Nevada
Dixie Valley Road, State Route 121, Churchill County, Nevada(Ed Pearce)
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 6:27 PM PDT
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DIXIE VALLEY, Nev. (KOLO) - Even those who have traveled U-S 50--the Loneliest Road in America--have likely taken little notice of the turn off onto State Route 121. Even fewer take it.

If you drive it you’re more likely to encounter a low flying jet from the Top Gun school at the Fallon Naval Air Station than any ground traffic. On average it sees a few dozen vehicles in a day.

State Route 121 runs northward into Dixie Valley for 27 miles at which point it turns into a county maintained gravel road.

The state’s portion was last paved 45 years ago, and though it’s seen some patching in the years since--the last in 2012--it’s showing it’s age. There are potholes--big ones--though, we have to say, fewer than we expected.

Instead of continuing to patch them the state has begun grinding up the old asphalt and turning it the Dixie Valley Road into gravel.

Gravel roads are common in rural Nevada and this one doesn’t get any more traffic than most. So, this change shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Well, to some people at the north end of this valley it’s a very big deal.”>

There are three big alfalfa farms here. The hay they grow is shipped to dairy operations and feed lots in southern California and beyond. If the first 120 miles of that journey is on gravel roads, that’s a problem for the trucking companies. Slower speeds, longer trip times, wear and tear of vehicles.

“Truckers are going to charge more to come out here because it’s harder on them.” says Steve Bockmon, who manages one of the farms.

Those higher charges add up quickly.

“They’re talking anywhere from $15 to $20 a ton increase on hauling,” says Matt Kuil, who manages the farm next door. “That comes out to $600-$750 a year in just trucking fees.”

But. Bockmon, contends the change wasn’t necessary.

“It could have been cheaper just patching it, fixing the bad section. There was 11 miles of bad road there. If they would have just done that instead of ripped out the whole road, everybody would have been fine and it would have been cheaper.”

On the other hand, the state points to a $530 million dollar annual deficit in transportation funding, projects on roads that serve thousands rather than a few.

“We’re looking at approximately $75 million dollars in taxpayer funds to repave that roadway,” says NDOT spokeswoman Meg Ragonese. “And we also want to do due our diligence preserving those funds for highly traveled roadways including nearby U-S 50 and I-80.”

In addition, she says, what they are doing will leave travelers with a consistent roadway from one end of the valley to the other. We can’t say for sure, but at the moment there’s a distinct difference between the new state roadway and the county’s. Loose, deep gravel on the state’s roadway, a harder surface on the newly bladed county side.

Frankly, as rural Nevada roads go, there are a lot worse than either. The newly bladed county side may even at the moment offer a smoother ride than the state’s. Bockmon and Kuill are predicting the state’s road will soon fall apart.

Time and weather will determine the future. For the roadway and the farmers.

“We’re grasping for straws right now,” admits Bockmon. “We don’t know what we’re going to do. It could make a big difference if we’re not making a profit and you’re losing money. Who wants to farm and lose money?”

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