Roger Miller (Jericho Highway Department)
Roger Miller: Jericho’s Own King of the Road
By Phyl Newbeck
Back in July of 2001, Roger Miller joined the Jericho Road Crew and he’s been making sure residents can get to and from their homes and businesses ever since. The six-member crew has been down to four since last summer, but they’ve been able to keep up with everything the weather throws at them.
Winter work on the road crew involves plowing snow and sanding to prevent rain from freezing on the roads. Gravel roads can’t be graded in winter, but the crew is still out, filling in potholes. Summer is the time for grading those gravel roads. “People like to see that you’ve done it,” Miller said “but they’re not happy while you’re doing it. People like to see you arrive and they like it when you’ve finished, but they don’t really want to see you there.”
Miller said other summer work involves ditching to make sure water doesn’t run into the road. He noted that state guidelines require ditches to have a lining and a specified level of depth. In all seasons, the crew takes care of trees that come down during storms. The exception is the trees that land on power lines. “We have this thing about not getting sparked,” Miller said with a smile. Even when they’re not on the roads, the crew is busy with upkeep on their vehicles.
Jericho has 60 miles of roads, almost evenly divided between paved and gravel. The number of gravel roads is unlikely to grow but new developments, particularly in the Riverside area may add more paved roads. Additionally, some existing development roads may become public roads at some point in time. Sidewalks are a relatively new addition to the road crew’s duties and require continued maintenance.
Miller said that it is more expensive to build a paved road but if it has a good base, it will last at least 20 years before it needs significant work. “A gravel road is less expensive to maintain,” he said, “but you’re always maintaining them.” In addition to regular grading in the summer, some gravel roads require additional work to keep the dust down. “Occasionally the grader operator will have to wait go out until the roads are beyond where they should be because of the rain,” he said. “They have to wait with the work until the road is dry and then sometimes the potholes are deep enough to swallow a Volkswagen.”
The job of the road crew has changed over the years. “It’s not like it used to be,” Miller said. “Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, a lot of muscle was needed. There is still manual labor in things like cleaning culverts, but you don’t need to be muscle-bound to work on a road crew although it does come in handy if you are.”
Although many people might think some of Jericho’s bigger snowstorms would cause the most problems, Miller said the worst weather he’s had to work through was the summer a few years ago when there were a number of heavy rainstorms one after the other. He recalls that one major rainstorm came around the Fourth of July and another fell around Bennington Battle Day. “The first was bad enough that before we could get everything fixed, the next one hit.” Miller recalls, adding that the crew needed five or six different contractors during that storm and relied on cooperation from the road crews of several other towns.
Miller used to play volleyball regularly but these days his main exercise is walking. In the spring he sugars the traditional way with buckets. For him, the best part of the job is having someone say thank you. “Sometimes when a road is really bad or rutty, when we’re out there filling the potholes, we’ll get a thumbs up,” he said, “and that’s really gratifying.”