Amish property taxes fund schools their children don't attend. Their vehicles don't run on gasoline, so they contribute to maintaining the roads they use in other ways. Photo: Becky McCarty, Ohio DOT
Sometimes, the road is less traveled for a reason. And then there are roads heavily traveled — by horse-drawn vehicles.
Such roads show two sets of parallel grooves: the standard rutting caused by cars and trucks, and a more exotic pattern left by horses pulling buggies with rubber- or steel-rimmed wheels.
The bulk of the damage is made by welded spikes located on horseshoes that “literally pluck aggregate out of the asphalt,” says Greg Gurney, Ohio DOT's (ODOT) District 11 planning administrator. The district includes Holmes County, home to 41,445 residents — 40% of whom are Amish. Many county routes have 3- to 4-foot-wide shoulders to accommodate buggies. But the extra shoulder width isn't always enough for the buggies — which need at least 6 feet to be comfortable and 8 feet to feel safe — so some damage to both the shoulder and the road is inevitable.
While most of the state's roads last up to a decade between resurfacings, these roads are resurfaced every four to five years.
In another state with a high Amish population, the Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) also makes special provisions to accommodate horse and buggies.
“In some areas, especially Lancaster County, we widen the shoulders to at least 4 feet so they can travel on the shoulder as much as possible,” says PennDOT Spokeswoman Alison Wenger. The department posts horse-drawn vehicle warning signs along roads, and requires buggies to display slow-moving vehicle emblems for safety purposes.
Most road repair in the nation is funded through gas taxes. According to studies done by The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, Pa., the Amish pay state, federal, sales, and property taxes. But because these revenues typically aren't applied to road repair, and because the Amish don't drive automobiles, constituents outside the Amish community (called “English” by the Amish) sometimes raise concerns about funding equities.
To offset the gap in Ohio, the Holmes County Amish Steering Committee routinely donates to a maintenance fund that helps pay for resurfacing work on a 4-mile stretch of state road routinely accessed by members of their community. The committee has contributed three times since 2005, with the most recent donation of $109,557 made in September. The donations are in accordance with a section of the Ohio Revised Code, which states that any organization, group, or individual may give money to ODOT to pay expenses incurred in maintaining, repairing, or reconstructing state roads on which animal-drawn vehicles travel.
In Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, the Amish don't directly contribute to road repairs. “But we get far more than we have to pay from having them in our community,” says Dennis Groff of Lancaster County's Planning Commission. “The businesses they run are some of the best, and if you need a hand they're always there to help out. You can't ask for more than that.”
According to ODOT Public Information Officer Becky McCarty, the department has learned a lot about options for repairs and expansions by cooperating with the Amish community. “Sometimes, we think we have to go around [the Amish community] to build a new road,” she says. “But it turns out, the Amish usually want to travel to the same places as us.
“They are very good partners for transportation.”