County roads " from fair to failing? | AspenTimes.com

County roads " from fair to failing?

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado

PITKIN COUNTY ” The forecast isn’t good for the 110 miles of Pitkin County roads.

Under the current county plan, many area roads would deteriorate from “fair” to “failing” in the next 20 years, and there is not enough funding for needed upgrades to improve road safety and capacity, according to county engineer G.R. Fielding.

At a county commissioners work session on Tuesday, officials heard from a consultant and discussed a 20-year plan.

The county scored a “fair” rating of 77 out of a possible 100 on a pavement condition index, according to Jason Amadori, a representative with the consultant Data Transfer Solutions, a firm the county hired to audit area roads.

But with similar skyrocketing construction costs and falling transportation budgets all across the country, Amadori plotted a sharp decline in Pitkin County road conditions over the next 20 years.

“We see the same thing happening all over the state,” Amadori said.

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The maintenance of current roads with chip-sealing, overlays and general maintenance costs $550,000 annually, and the current capital improvements are budgeted at $1.3 million, according to Fielding.

County officials have met with area caucus boards and have a prioritized list of major projects, but the current funding only covers four of 16 major road improvements needed in coming years, Fielding said.

Fielding crunched the numbers on various scenarios, including everything from a $1.5 million annual infusion of tax money to a $6 million subsidy that would improve the quality of local roads.

But the big question is where to find the money, officials said.

Commissioners weighed the merits of increasing impact fees, raising property taxes, creating a special-use tax or establishing special tax districts, but in the end raised more questions than answers about keeping roads in good shape.

“This could be $100 million,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who expressed concerns over rising inflation and the cost of business.

Commissioner Dorothea Farris called for doing whatever it takes to keep roads up to par, avoiding the funding pitfalls faced by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Commissioner Rachel Richards agreed it is important to maintain the current quality of roads and suggested a bonding initiative to fund the projects.

“People want improvements, but they want it to be painless either to their wallet or their time,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, citing recent cases where drivers became upset with construction delays and costs.

Commissioners asked for more information from staff on specific projects, and county officials will conduct a citizen survey about the 20-year plan.

Commissioners will tackle the matter at its annual financing discussion in January 2008, and the earliest decision on road funding would follow a possible November 2008 vote, according to County Manager Hilary Fletcher.

Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com

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