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Road conditions head in uncertain direction for now

Jeremy Heiman

The condition of Pitkin County roads has an uncertain future – the result of the loss of revenues from an expired county use tax.

The failure at the polls last November of a property tax to replace the use tax left the county low on capital replacement funds for its roads. The defunct county use tax, levied on the purchase of building materials and vehicle registrations, expired at the end of 1998.

“With the capital replacement plan being shot down,” said Brian Pettet, the county’s deputy director of public works, “the cost of maintenance goes up.”

In other words, the fewer dollars the county has at its disposal to rebuild roads, the greater maintenance they’ll require over time.

Pettet said maintenance usually entails preventive work like crack sealing, repair work such as pot-hole patching and drainage correction, and routine work like grading, dust control, snowplowing and sanding. All this work is done by county road crews.

A capital replacement project might include resurfacing of a stretch of road with chip and seal, or more extensive work such as replacing the road from its base, or foundation, on up. Replacement work is done by contracting firms.

If the capital replacement program were still well funded, said Pettet, the county could spend some road maintenance dollars on such things as correcting rockfall problems. But without the replacement money, the department will have to spend its maintenance assets on keeping road surfaces together.

Last year, the county’s road and bridge department spent a record amount on replacement, Pettet said. Now, his department is shifting into maintenance mode. Any replacements done will be in short sections, he said.

The county has a 20-year capital replacement plan for roads. Failure of the property tax has already prevented implementation of parts of that plan. But bigger problems may surface later.

“When the roads that were just fixed are five or six years old, that’s when people will start seeing the need for the use tax money,” Pettet said. He said roads fixed back in 1993 will be chip sealed this year with money from the county’s general fund.

Anne Parrott, assistant finance director for the county, said maintenance funds in the Road and Bridge department amount to $162,000 for 1999. In contrast, she said, the department’s capital replacement funding from the use tax averaged about $1.1 million per year over the last two years, with a supplement of $500,000 per year from the county’s general fund.

Pettet’s department is still receiving the $500,000 annually in capital replacement money from the general fund and the state provides some funding from the Colorado highway users’ tax and general sales tax.

But County Engineer Bud Eylar said those dollars may not go far. Chip and seal repairs can range from about $16,000 to more than $26,000 per mile, and asphalt overlays are considerably more expensive, he said.


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