OURAY COUNTY – On Nov. 12, 2009, the county conducted a public presentation of its stimulus funded TIGER Grant Application for improvements and paving on CR1 and sections of CR24. A copy of the slides shown in the presentation, along with the complete grant application including engineering drawings, maps and cost estimates, can be found on the county website at www.ouraycountyco.gov. We have received many helpful comments and would like to address a few of them in this article. We continue to encourage public comment on this proposed project before the expected award date of Feb. 17, 2010 and will consider all your input in our decision making.
Firstly, we have heard some concern about whether accepting federal grant funds would cede control over CR1 to the federal government and limit the county’s ability to restrict the use of our roads. This concern is tied to the fear that CR1 will become a designated bypass route between Montrose and Telluride. These are valid concerns for which we will have no definitive answer until we receive the final grant agreement documents (if we are so fortunate). It has never been the county’s intention to purposely create a bypass on CR1. By applying for this TIGER Grant we are merely trying to respond to and anticipate the wear and tear of additional traffic received by this, the most heavily travelled road in the county. Paving is the most practical way this high traffic load can be accommodated. If the grant award comes with onerous requirements we will need to consider at that time whether we are willing to accept them. However, based on other stimulus funded projects, we believe that we will still be able to impose reasonable restrictions to control traffic and even discourage the use of CR1 as a bypass. Some of your suggested restrictions include speed limits, weight/axle limits, traffic calming devices, and road design standards. We believe that any of these restrictions would still be allowed after the appropriate public process.
Secondly, we received numerous questions about the design details and whether these could be modified after award of the grant. The quick turnaround required by the application deadline did not permit a complete vetting of the design and discussion of priorities and trade-offs. Suggested changes included reducing width and sight lines to limit land acquisitions and elimination of turning lanes. We have considered submitting a modification to our application to incorporate some of these design changes; however, discussions with our congressional representatives convinced us that any change might jeopardize our application and that we will probably have an opportunity to make design changes after award.
Finally, a number of people offered very thoughtful concerns about whether the county would incur a costly maintenance obligation in the future by such an extensive paving project. This is reinforced by the observation that the county has not had adequate funds to properly maintain the existing paving on the Log Hill escarpment as recommended by the paving contractor. These concerns are entirely valid. Engineers recommend chip sealing paved roads every five years with an asphalt overlay every 10 years to maintain roads in first class condition. CR1 was paved on the escarpment in 1996 so this would have required one chip sealing and one overlay in this 13-year period at a total cost of around a million dollars. Monies have been set aside in a paving maintenance reserve fund at a rate of $10-20,000/year but this fund balance stands at only around $190,000. Since budget funds have not been available to properly maintain this pavement the county has done exactly what CDOT does with its limited budget – repair cracks and potholes as they occur to hold the road together and try to find the money in the future for a proper job. The TIGER Grant would allow us to catch up with repairs and this much needed overlay on the existing pavement, protecting the county’s asset as well as bringing the rest of CR1 up to standard to accommodate the traffic load. Even with the lack of proper maintenance, the escarpment road is in much better condition than if it were still gravel.
The Commissioners have been determined for a number of years to improve the maintenance of our public assets. In 2008 the voters approved the 1 percent sales tax ballot initiative for Road and Bridge activities to address the budget shortfall. This sales tax should generate around $500,000/year of new revenue, which we have just started collecting in 2009. Our engineers estimate that proper maintenance of the entire length of pavement on CR1 and 24 will cost around $2.7 million over 10 years, including a five-year chip sealing and 10-year overlay (see slides on www.ouraycountyco.gov). The county will set aside adequate money, estimated to be $270,000/year, from the R&B Sales Tax fund to ensure that the recommended maintenance is performed to preserve this public asset. Although this seems to be a large proportion of the sales tax fund, around $160,000/year of existing maintenance expenses on CR1 will be freed up to be used elsewhere on road maintenance (again, see slides on the website).
A related concern has been expressed about the relative cost of maintaining paved versus gravel roads. The presentation slides referred to above seem to indicate that it will cost over $100,000/year more to maintain the paved roads than if we leave them as gravel. These figures are very misleading in a number of respects and we expect a paved CR1 to cost the county less to maintain in the long run:
The comparison of the two slides is somewhat apples and oranges. The $270,000/year cost estimate will maintain the entire 15 miles of new and existing paved roads covered by the TIGER Grant. The $160,000/year current maintenance cost is primarily spent on just the nine miles of gravel/chip sealed CR1.
Current maintenance expenditures are inadequate to properly maintain the gravel portion of CR1 as any frequent traveler can attest, particularly at the north end outside of Colona.
The gravel portion of CR1 was never designed or built structurally to handle the current traffic volume, which could double in the next 10 years as a result of development on the mesa. This road has evolved from what has been described as a goat trail since 1911 and cannot be properly maintained without significant capital improvements. Poor drainage and road foundation in the Colona area have caused repeated failure of the chip sealed surface resulting in persistent potholes. Our engineers estimate that this section of road will cost nearly $1 million to fix properly along with another $760,000 of capital repairs needed on the paved section on the escarpment and north of Ponderosa. This and other work to improve drainage and bring CR1 up to standard are included in the TIGER Grant application and would eliminate the need for the county to fund these needed capital improvements from its current budget.
Gravel roads generally cost more to maintain than paved roads when the traffic load increases. La Plata County requires all roads, which exceed a traffic count of 400 ADT to be paved due to a combination of safety and maintenance cost. CR1 has exceeded 700 ADT for many years and this number is climbing rapidly. Our engineers advise that maintenance costs on a paved road are relatively insensitive to reasonable increases in traffic, whereas maintenance on a gravel road could be roughly proportional to traffic volume. This means that their estimate of $270,000/year for the paved CR1 should increase only with inflation costs in the future; but if we leave the road as gravel we should expect the current expenditures to increase dramatically above the $160,000/year now being spent.
We appreciate your patience in reading this. We certainly haven’t answered all your questions but we want everyone to be comfortable with this potential project and we value your input. If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please contact any of the Commissioners, Connie Hunt the County Administrator, or Chris Miller the Road and Bridge Superintendent.