Officials say Grand County road conditions are ‘good,’ despite weather, funding concerns
Don’t like the roads in Grand County? Blame the weather.
Municipalities around Grand County are largely happy with the current road conditions in the county, despite accelerated rates of degrading due to the seasonal shifts, and a lack of funding to remedy troublesome areas.
There aren’t currently any plans to expand the capacity on the roads in the county, meaning the name of the game is maintaining and fixing the current roads.
“We do have potholes, and that’s just how it is,” said Robert McVay, mayor of Hot Sulphur Springs. “But actually the county roads and our roads are in good shape. There are some that need work, but it’s one of those deals that I know the county has to deal with because they haven’t got a whole lot of money either.”
While most roads are still working well, a lack of funding for infrastructure means that it takes local municipalities longer to raise money for road construction, part of a growing national issue, according to Tracy Trulove of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“The intent of pavement management is to maintain roads in their current condition and then repair roads in poor conditions,” said Trulove. “Similar to most regions and states, we struggle to fully accomplish this due to funding constraints.”
In Fraser they are working on a bridge replacement and total rehabilitation of County Road 8, which is maintained by the town. Cost estimates put the project upwards of $1.5 million, according to Fraser Public Works Director Allen Nordin, which is a prohibitive number.
Towns often apply for grants through CDOT and the Department of Local Affairs, though most grants require a matching sum, leaving towns struggling to come up with the funds before their roads deteriorate too far.
Part of the issue is that roads in Grand County deteriorate faster than others due to the extreme weather conditions.
The issue actually starts in the summer, as ultraviolet rays from the sun strip the asphalt of essential oils, drying it out and creating cracks. In the winter, water seeps into cracks in the road where it freezes and expands, then thaws out again.
“Asphalt is somewhat porous, and so the water gets into those cracks,” said Nordin. “Then you have a freeze cycle. So over time it moves that asphalt mat, and begins to break it down.”
Nordin said that this process happens over several seasons, but quickly adds up. He said that roads are built to last 20 years, but that the process of deterioration is often accelerated in the county.
Towns use chip seals, a surface treatment cheaper than resurfacing, to help maintain the roads. They must also provide constant crack maintenance to extend the life of the road.
In Hot Sulphur Springs, road conditions worsen during the spring, as winter runoff from the Colorado River often wreaks havoc on roads.
“When we get runoff in the spring, the water is real high and we get some erosion from the bottom of the bank from the river,” said McVay. “And when it rains we get a lot of runoff from Highway 40 that goes down and over the bank. Consequently that weakens the bank and it lets go.”
CDOT keeps records of the roads in the region, and has maps that illustrate the drivability level on major roads as low, moderate or high. The most recent map of the region from 2016 shows a relatively positive picture, with only 15 percent of major roads showing a low drivability rating, 69 percent at moderate and 16 percent at high.
The map shows the entire northwestern region of Colorado, 14 counties. Taking a closer look at Grand County shows that the only low drivability rating was on Colorado State Highway 125 heading north out of the county, though Trulove emphasized that the results may change once more recent data is available.
There is only one major road project scheduled through CDOT in the coming years, according to Trulove, an asphalt overlay on State Highway 34 between mile markers 0 and 8 in 2021.
“We’re very lucky,” said McVay. “We have a good crew and they take good care of the streets in the town. CDOT and the county do a great job. But in the wintertime, with the freezing, that’s something we have no control over. No matter how good your crew is they can’t stop it.”
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