Rocky roads ahead for Pitkin County |

Rocky roads ahead for Pitkin County

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” The man in charge of Pitkin County’s roads has a big challenge ahead of him after voters’ recent rejection of a property tax hike to pay for road improvements.

Public Works director Brian Pettet worries that the county’s lesser-used roads could become pothole-riddled dirt tracks over the coming couple of years, now that the funds won’t be there to improve them.

“People don’t realize that not investing in roads does not save money,” Pettet said this week, explaining that deferred or emergency maintenance often proves to be more expensive than timely, regular maintenance.

Voters on Nov. 4 decided, by a relatively slim margin, to turn down Referendum 1B, which would have raised property taxes to set up a dedicated roads fund for the next 20 years.

Pettet, who backed the referendum, maintained before the election that the annual expenditure for roads and bridges in recent years, about $1.9 million out of the general fund revenues, was inadequate. He argued that a consultant told the county it should be spending $5 million to $8 million per year to keep the roads in good shape, the lower of which would be the amount raised by the proposed property tax.

The county commissioners recently voted to slash the amount of general fund money for roads, from $1.9 million this year to about $400,000 for 2009, because the $1.2 million was needed to pay for other county operations.

“That $400,000 will go directly into roads,” Pettet said this week, conceding, “It’s not a lot of money.”

Given the fact that the county must maintain 111 miles of roads, most of which are paved in asphalt, Pettet predicted that some of those roads “will begin to degrade” as time passes because there won’t be enough money to pay for maintenance.

“We will prioritize,” he said of his use of what little budget he will have, explaining that in most cases the road projects that the county undertakes will involve what is known as “chip-seal,” a process in which a layer of gravel is laid down and then covered with a tarry substance that hardens as it dries.

What Pettet termed “the most highly traveled roads,” such as Brush Creek, Castle Creek, Maroon Creek, McLain Flats and Red Mountain, will get the lion’s share of attention from the roads department.

Others, such as Capital Creek, Emma and West Sopris Creek, “won’t receive a lot of attention.”

Asked to predict the outcome of all this, Pettet said simply, “We’ll have failures.”

Among the failures, he said, will be the appearance of cracks in the asphalt, potholes, crumbling shoulders and “in some cases, there could be asphalt roads that will revert back” to the underlying surface of gravel and dirt.

One project that will take a big hit, Pettet said, will be the redesigning and reconstruction of roads in the Aspen Business Center. Pettet said the project was budgeted for $1.5 million and the “outreach” program of meetings with neighborhood residents is about halfway completed. He said the roads department will go ahead and finish the outreach meetings, but the actual road work will be put on hold.

For emergency repairs, where public safety is in question, there will be a “road emergency fund” taken from the county’s reserve accounts.

Pettet also predicted that the question of a property tax to pay for road maintenance and improvements probably will be back before voters within a year or two.

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