|This is Part Two of a two part article on Archuleta County roads. Read Part One.|
On our journey around town, Public Works Acting Superintendent Alan Zumwalt drove us to another construction project that will be completed by September.
We looked at the Village Drive intersection. There will be a preliminary pre-design meeting at the end of the month between the County, Town and the Bohannan-Huston Engineering firm. Zumwalt said, "According to our County codes, a driveway can only be 30 feet wide, yet..." he pointed across the street, "Shell gas station’s driveway is about 100 feet wide. They are looking at a right-in and right-out design with control lanes (a signal)." The County and Town will split the cost of construction 50/50. Continued...
While at the gas station, Zumwalt filled up the County pick-up. Some employees receive a CFN card entitling them to receive a discount on gasoline for County vehicles: Phillips 66, Dial and Conoco. Zumwalt punched in the vehicle number, mileage and his personal user ID code. It automatically feeds to a computer, recording who, what, when filled up, and how much. This system makes it easy to track maintenance schedules, miles to the gallon and if authorized users fill only County vehicles.
After cars drive over alligatoring, a piece of road gets knocked out creating a pothole.
Last stop on my mystery tour was Pinion Causeway. A geotechnical study was done, determining construction needs: a proper two-lane road built with proper drainage, base redone, dip in road flattened, concrete spillway redone, road realigned, straight down the middle, eliminating sharp curves. Some trees will be removed, the County will re-grade, seed and have a 4 or 5 feet wide walking/riding trail along the east side of the street.
According to Zumwalt, a contract for the Pinion Causeway construction has been signed with Strohecker; work begins in April. A section of the road will be closed to traffic. “We will keep it open as much as we can." The causeway over the lake will be closed. The entire project will take 45 to 60 days. The road is a little less than 1/2 mile long and the bid came in under budget.
I asked about gravel roads. Zumwalt replied, “Last year most of the primary gravel roads were re-graveled."
All the capital projects Zumwalt showed me will be contracted out. His road crews are already overloaded with work. He'd like to give all the projects to one contractor, to get a better price. What about doing them in-house? “We don’t have the equipment, the AutoCad System is very expensive. Extra equipment and people would be necessary."
The County has received three proposals from qualified firms. After interviewing these companies, the firm that offers the best price and has the County’s best interest in mind will be chosen. "We either choose companies with good referrals or previously used firms we were happy with. All the projects should be finished by September.”
What about secondary roads? “They will be bladed at least once and when necessary." Roads were bladed in the fall to get them ready for snowplowing. Monies soon to pour in from 1A and increased valuations will support better maintenance on an as-needed basis. It’s Zumwalt and his foreman’s responsibility to check to see what roads need work; the worst ones come first. Continued...
Zumwalt inspects roads when residents call and complain. One person says they have a pothole so big a car can fall into it, but upon inspection, perhaps Zumwalt sees only minor rippling. Another resident calls to say their road has a foot of snow. He inspects and finds out that it’s only 2 or 3 inches. Their policy states unless a road has 4 inches of snow, they do not plow. “The guys are old hands and can tell how deep the snow is just by looking, occasionally they measure. They know what areas in the County get the most snow." Each road is assigned a specific area which they check each snowy morning.
What's wrong with this picture? Still water, potholes and missing asphalt.
Why isn't salt used? Sand is only used on slick spots because salt is environmentally unfriendly and causes vegetation damage. CDOT uses magnesium chloride liquid spray on highways for snow and ice control, but it’s corrosive. "I’m meeting with people that have 3 or 4 alternatives. The Board members expressed a concern in using Mag Chloride," said Zumwalt.
Zumwalt is currently working on a five-year plan, and said most of the capital project side is already done. He’s also working on a five-year maintenance plan that needs to be finalized and approved by the Board. Although he can’t please everyone, he feels people will be happy. He plans to fix the worst, most heavily-traveled, hazardous situations. In the meantime, “caution and proper speed on damaged roads is important," stressed Zumwalt.
This is the first time in about three years that all employee slots are filled. It’s not always easy to find people to work for the County. Either they don’t have proper qualifications or they’d prefer to work for the oil and gas companies or construction companies that pay more money. The County pays $16 an hour, but offers better benefits compared to the $18 to $20 an hour (plus overtime) the oil and gas companies pay. The county has raised its budget substantially, now giving $1.50 more per hour than last year.
"Generally, most of the employees that work for Road and Bridge are in their mid-20’s or 30’s. We will hire anyone qualified wanting to work. I’m the old guy around here at age 63,” laughed Zumwalt.
The Road and Bridge budget for maintenance and staff is $3 million per year. Road capital improvements are another $1.2 million. “It’s built up from last year because the department didn’t have time to do projects already in the budget."
Maintenance money comes from the state dispersing money from gasoline sales. A complicated formula determines the amount given per county. Grant money received is for a specific purpose, such as DoLa (oil and gas impacts on an area). County Special Projects Coordinator Sheila Burger is looking into grants to get more money for road projects.
CDOT gives federal money for the rebuilding of bridges. Every other year the state inspects and gives each bridge a rating. Director of Engineering Sue Walan has a bridge plan to determine which bridge is repaired first. Continued...
New housing developments form metro districts, a quasi-governmental body or a homeowner’s association. They are responsible for their own road maintenance. Zumwalt likes that. Once the County receives the HTUF money (gasoline sales) it disperses it to the Metro Districts for their maintenance needs.
Public Works superintendent is inspecting the road. What appears to be speedbumps is really a damaged road. Geotextile material will be placed on the base to prevent this problem when the road construction happens this summer.
The State of Colorado does things differently than anyplace I’ve ever lived. Thanks to Zumwalt’s quiet matter-of-fact lessons, and by looking at diagrams, I’ve come one step closer to knowing why roads and drainage are hot issues in Archuleta County. Since taking the tour on Wednesday, I'm more aware of cracked roads and chipped edges. Although, potholes are unpleasant, I now understand the process and the time it takes to rectify the problem.