‘One of the worst pothole years I can remember’

A stretch of rough road heading into the S-curves in Aspen. Jerry Nye, superintendent of Aspen's Streets Department said the S-curves are the worst section of Main Street in regards to potholes forming.
Jason Auslander/The Aspen Times |

As any regular driver can attest, extreme weather conditions this winter are wreaking havoc on area roads.

“This has been one of the worst pothole years I can remember,” said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s public works director. “They are virtually everywhere in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

The large amount of moisture coupled with the wide range of temperatures, especially in the upper valley, is mainly to blame, he said. The moisture gets into cracks in the road and then freezes and expands before thawing to reveal a larger crack or hole, Pettet said. The process then repeats and the road breaks down.

“Moisture is the No. 1 enemy of asphalt,” Pettet said.

January’s cold temperatures and nearly 100 inches of snow started the general road degradation, but February’s warmer temperatures and rain exacerbated the problems.

“This is an unusual year in regard to road maintenance and potholes in particular,” Pettet said.

Road crews fill potholes during breaks in the weather, but no significant road work can be done until the spring or summer when temperatures rise, he said. Problem areas in the county include Maroon Creek Road above Aspen High School as well as West Sopris Creek Road.

“The plan is you just fill them up,” Pettet said. “You patch as best you can.”

Jerry Nye, superintendent of Aspen’s Streets Department, agreed.

“We’re needing some work done on Main Street,” he said. “We’re dealing with pothole issues we don’t usually have.”

Aspen street crews are patching potholes almost on a daily basis, Nye said. They apply a material known as “cold patch,” which works until more water enters the area and it pops back up again, he said. Snow plowing also contributes to the problem, Nye said.

The worst section of Main Street is at the S-curves, and specifically in front of the U.S. Forest Service building, Nye said. Original corner and the intersection of Main and Aspen streets also have seen large potholes this year, he said.

The city of Aspen patches the holes on Main Street through an agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintenance on state roads such as Highway 82, Nye said. The current agreement calls for CDOT to pay the city $30,000 a year for the patchwork, though officials are scheduled to renegotiate the contract later this week, Nye said.

But continuing to just patch up the S-curves area isn’t going to cut it, he said.

“CDOT’s gonna have to do something,” Nye said. “The highway’s falling apart. We can’t keep just patching potholes.”

That, however, is not currently on the transportation department’s agenda.

“There’s no future resurfacing or repaving project in (the S-curves area) scheduled,” said Tracy Trulove, a CDOT spokesperson.

Maintenance, such as that done at the roundabout last spring and fall, could happen this year after officials renegotiate the agreement between CDOT and the city, she said.

However, a complete resurfacing of Highway 82 through Aspen brings up challenges such as the Entrance to Aspen project, Trulove said. The department doesn’t want to take on a large project if plans for that long-talked-about renovation come to fruition, she said.

One of the main proposals for the Entrance to Aspen involves routing traffic and possibly a light-rail train across the Marolt Open Space, which would bypass the S-curves altogether.

Despite the issues, Pettet and Nye said they have not yet had to ask for extra pothole-fixing money this year.