Engineering Department is putting emphasis on repairs | AspenTimes.com

Engineering Department is putting emphasis on repairs

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

The past two years have been busy times for the Pitkin County Engineering Department. The county made a strong financial commitment to the department, as several road projects were overdue for major makeovers, but there's about to be a shift in the mindset of the department for the next decade.

"We're moving from capital improvements to capital maintenance," County Engineer G.R. Fielding said. "Basically, we're going from building projects to repair projects."

In 2012, the Engineering Department invested between $3 million and $4 million in road projects. In 2013, the capital-road-improvement budget was $8.6 million, which went to projects like the airport pedestrian underpass, the Aspen Business Center roads project and other smaller road projects. In 2014, the roads budget was $5.4 million to complete the 2013 projects and repairs to about 13 miles of Frying Pan Road.

"We patched and chip-sealed the Frying Pan Road," Fielding said. "We also repaired a subsidence area that was posing a threat to the road."

The county is now looking to make major investments in the courthouse and Courthouse Plaza buildings during the next few years. So the engineering budget will stay around $2 million a year for the next decade.

"Two million dollars sounds like a lot of money," Fielding said. "But that doesn't leave much money for capital improvements."

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The Engineering Department is responsible for the planning, design, construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and traffic-control devices on the county highway system. The department also maintains approximately 254 miles of county roadways.

In 2015, two projects are already scheduled that will likely use most of the road maintenance budget. Airport Road parallels the east side of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport; it has drainage issues and is in need of a complete overlay.

"This is one of Aspen's front doors," Fielding said. "Anyone coming into Aspen through the airport sees this road. We'll do some grading and literally put up to 2 inches of new pavement on the entire road. In a nutshell, this type of project is a perfect example of capital maintenance."

The department also will perform a chip-seal project, similar to what it did on Frying Pan Road, on Snowmass Creek and Capital Creek roads.

"It looks like another 13-mile project," Fielding said. "I try to keep things lucky."

The Engineering Department also is proposing adding one full-time-equivalent employee in 2015. Fielding wants to add a project engineer/manager to alleviate some of the day-to-day project-management duties that he's taking upon himself currently.

The one thing the budget won't allow will be some repair projects that Fielding said will have to be dealt with eventually. He pointed to an area on Castle Creek Road, about a quarter mile south of the hospital, where a major cut in the hillside needs a rockfall-mitigation project.

He then showed similar areas on the north end of McLain Flats Road and the south end of Upper River Road that also need rockfall mitigation.

"We don't have the funds for that type of project put aside in our current 10-year plan," Fielding said.

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com