Pitkin County balks at $2M road repair
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners balked Tuesday at spending $2 million on a road project that would more than deplete the county’s existing capital fund designated for roads.
Commissioners also hesitated on several proposed capital projects for county buildings, including a fire sprinkler system for the historic courthouse, which Aspen’s fire marshal has requested. Only a $258,000 replacement of the county jail’s antiquated security system, discussed several times previously, won the go-ahead yesterday.
Commissioner Michael Owsley alone was ready to say yes to a major road repair and maintenance project on Upper River Road in the Woody Creek area, where he resides.
“If you don’t repair Upper River Road, you’re going to have a disaster there,” he said, calling the condition of the pavement a hazard that could result in a serious accident.
Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director, and G.R. Fielding, county engineer, recommended a 3.5-mile project that would include reconstruction of 2.5 miles of Upper River Road, below Woody Creek Road, and an overlay on about a mile of the road above the Woody Creek Road intersection.
The project would use up all of the $1.78 million in the road capital fund, a sum built up through savings on projects over a decade or so, and require $260,000 from elsewhere within the county’s budget. The county’s general fund contains $2.8 million in unallocated money and a separate facilities fund contains $5.6 million; either could be tapped for the road work. (The county also has a separate, $4 million contingency fund.)
The amount of traffic on Upper River Road, combined with its condition, brought it to the top of the list for a major overhaul, Fielding said. Fixing it later will only be more costly, Pettet added.
But, some commissioners wondered if the money should be used to tackle several less expensive projects from a list of a dozen options totaling $12.5 million.
Commissioner Rob Ittner said he wasn’t sure how to judge the Upper River Road project against the other needs.
“I want to weigh it against the other things that are in the hopper here,” he said.
“I can’t see us depleting the road capital fund,” said Commissioner George Newman, urging commissioners to retain some of the money for unforeseen problems.
The county has other money it can tap for such contingencies, Owsley countered.
“I can bring more pieces of Upper River Road to you right now than you can from any of these other roads. It’s just that loose,” he said.
Commissioners asked Pettet and Fielding to come up with some alternate suggestions that leave some balance in the capital road fund. A proposed $540,000 chip-and-seal project for Upper River Road had already been approved for this year; Pettet and Fielding were seeking approval to upgrade the project.
The state of funding for roads in general is expected to be a topic of discussion for commissioners at a retreat next week. The county cut capital funding for roads from about $1.9 million to $400,000 annually in 2009 to help balance its budget after the recession hit. A proposed tax, dedicated to roads, failed at the polls in 2008.
With regard to proposed capital projects within county buildings, commissioners decided to hold off on the courthouse sprinkler project until they see how it fits into a 10-year capital replacement plan for all of its facilities. The county is spending $85,000 on an assessment to develop that plan.
Owsley, however, supported going forward with the sprinkler system now.
“I can’t possibly take the risk of losing our courthouse. I just can’t do it,” he said.
A proposed upgrade to the door locks on five county buildings, at a cost of $103,000, is also on hold. Commissioners want information on the cost per building in case they decide to tackle the work a building at a time.
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