Weather puts spotlight on roads in Elbert County

County faces tough decisions about paving as traffic increases

Posted 5/17/15

For more than two weeks, Elbert County, like much of Colorado, has received more than its share of rain, hail and snow. At one point, areas in the county received eight inches of rain from a single storm. While most residents can appreciate the …

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Weather puts spotlight on roads in Elbert County

County faces tough decisions about paving as traffic increases

Posted

For more than two weeks, Elbert County, like much of Colorado, has received more than its share of rain, hail and snow. At one point, areas in the county received eight inches of rain from a single storm. While most residents can appreciate the much-needed moisture, the heavy rain has taken its toll on many of the county’s 1,000 miles of dirt and gravel roads.

According to County Manager Ed Ehmann, in some areas roads became so saturated that attempting to fix them would have done more harm than good, because the sodden roads were unable to support the weight of the equipment sent to repair them.

At the Board of County Commissioners meeting on May 13, county resident Kevin Lang, who spoke on behalf of more than 200 households in the northwestern part of the county, told the BOCC that residents of his community were not appealing for paved roads, but that their concerns went beyond the damage created by the current wet weather.

“The conditions of the roads there are such that even our firefighters can’t get down roads, because it turns to slush. The road base is just sand and mud,” Lang said. “We just want roads that are safe.”

Ehmann acknowledged the high amount of traffic damaging the roads in the area.

“It’s one of those areas we identified in 2008 that required paving on many of those roads, because the traffic volumes exceeded what we could maintain as gravel roads,” Ehmann said. “It’s hard for us to maintain that road and haul in materials. That’s why you see a blade out there more frequently than not.”

Though road crews have been scrambling to maintain roads during the wet spring weather, the reality is that there are not enough paved roads in the county.

The Western Elbert County Transportation Master Plan developed in 2008 identified 138 miles of road in the northwest part of Elbert County where traffic exceeds 200 vehicle trips per day, the threshold of traffic indicating a road needs to be paved. The county has completed paving 14 miles of identified roads.

“Most of our paved roads are at or beyond their original life expectancy, and we still have to pave new roads,” said District 1 Commissioner Robert Rowland. “Paving and improvements under even the best of plans is feasible for only main arterials, not secondary roads.”

According to budget data presented by the BOCC, after accounting for annual road and bridge maintenance expenditures of $4.3 million (payroll, equipment, and fuel), the county has about $1.7 million of discretionary funds available annually for improvements to the county’s roads.

At an average cost of $634,000 per mile to pave two lanes of road, the county is financially able to either pave around 2.75 miles or put down 19 miles of crushed asphalt annually. The cost to complete paving all 138 miles identified in the master plan is estimated at around $87 million.

The county has worked to stretch its funds through grants. Ehmann credits the 2008 transportation plan with the county’s ability to obtain close to $4 million in grants for projects such as paving a four-mile stretch of County Road 29, which received a $983,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) with a $2.5 million match from Elbert County.

“It helps us identify where we need to focus our improvements,” Ehmann said. “That’s a very powerful document for us.”

Though the prognoses for new pavement may not be rosy, the county’s improvements to its financial position have allowed repairs on roads damaged from the weather. Because other counties were hit harder, Elbert County will not likely see much or any emergency relief from the state, but Ehmann is confident about the county’s ability to absorb the financial hit from the storm.

“We’ve budgeted for this. We have the reserves in order to handle things like this. That’s something we didn’t have several years ago,” Ehmann said.

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