Persistent pothole problem pushes officials to act
CDOT says after weather delayed crews, pothole repairs are finally underway on US 40
While the freeze-thaw cycle of spring always brings its fair share of potholes all across the county, this year the subject has drawn ire from local residents and elected officials alike. All say the potholes riddling U.S. Highway 40 from Berthoud Pass to Kremmling are the worst they have ever seen and are causing a serious safety issue.
Regular commuters see the impacts daily – someone changing a flat, a broken down vehicle or a car getting towed.
In the last few weeks Sky-Hi News has been contacted by locals and visitors claiming they have dealt with flat tires or worse after hitting a pothole that was unavoidable.
Take for instance a local teen who hit a pothole near the entrance to Winter Park’s Mary Jane territory. The impact caused a mechanical failure, and he says he lost losing steering control while driving Berthoud Pass, crashing his 2003 Jeep Wrangler into a guardrail.
Colorado State Patrol says the vehicle flipped twice and fell approximately 20 feet below into a ravine near Empire. Luckily he walked away without a scratch, but the vehicle was basically a total loss.
“I believe this accident could have not only killed him but others on the road,” said the teen’s father Ted Williams. “And I honestly believe that it was a direct result of hitting that pothole near Mary Jane. The unavoidable pothole.”
Even worse, the Jeep held sentimental value for the teen because he picked it out with his grandpa and they worked on it together. He put a new engine and transmission in the Jeep about a month ago, according to Williams.
As a mechanic, Williams says that he works closely with a tow truck company and that lately drivers are constantly going up and down Berthoud Pass picking up cars that have flat tires because they hit potholes.
“We need the roads fixed for the safety of everyone,” said Williams.
Williams added that recently his friend’s tow truck was hit by a car while he was towing a vehicle that hit a pothole.
Many tow truck drivers across Grand County agree with Williams — the condition of the highway has become a safety issue and it’s causing flat tires or worse, daily. Especially between Berthoud Pass and the entrance of Mary Jane.
Gary Peters, a tow truck driver and owner of Pete’s Towing in Granby, said he would sometimes tow multiple cars a day due to people hitting potholes. Some people were even getting two flat tires at a time.
“It was an endless supply,” said Peters. “People were splitting rims because the impact was so bad.”
He says in his 35 years of towing in Grand County that he has never seen the highway this bad.
“It was so bad the highway should have been closed,” he said.
However, Peters acknowledges that the patch repair done recently on some of the potholes by the Colorado Department of Transportation has helped the situation on U.S. 40, but he still thinks some serious repairs are in order.
Colorado Department of Transportation
While the pothole problem exists in Grand County, most fingers are pointed at the Colorado Department of Transportation. That is because CDOT manages and maintains 823 miles of state highways in Grand County, including U.S. 40, U.S. Highway 34, Colorado Highway 9, Colorado Highway 125 and Colorado Highway 134 at Gore Pass.
CDOT says its been repairing potholes as best it can with a cold mix that doesn’t require temperatures to be above freezing like hot asphalt repairs do. The department acknowledges it is a temporary fix, but until the freeze-thaw cycle ends in Grand County, repairs with hot asphalt can’t occur.
“Cold mix is designed to be a bandaid,” said CDOT Section 6 Deputy Superintendent Spencer Dickey in an interview. “A lot of these potholes will get a more permanent patch in the summer.”
Dickey explains that if a pothole is repaired before freezing temperatures end, the repair will end up ruined because the material won’t properly adhere. In addition, when temperatures drop, the water freezes inside the pothole and hydrological forces can cause the repair to crack or burst open.
“Grand County is particularly challenging because it is almost in perpetual ice,” Dickey said during an interview on April 3. “Last week we patched through the Town of Granby and it snowed, and now the potholes are back.”
In addition, the department says it’s received an increase in reports about potholes in the Winter Park area, but the stretch of highway has also seen a big increase in traffic over the last few years, which may be a contributing factor. CDOT’s Region 3 customer service team received more than 100 complaints about potholes on the U.S. 40 in Grand County from Jan. 1, to April 6.
It’s not that Grand County isn’t seeing its fair share of CDOT’s budget when it comes to maintaining U.S. 40 either.
The department says that From July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, 37% of CDOT’s maintenance and surface treatment budget for the northwest Colorado regions went towards repairing 5.6 miles of highway that includes Winter Park and the north side of Berthoud Pass. The northwest Colorado region includes Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Grand and Jackson counties.
“Maintenance surface treatment means fixing potholes, patching short sections of roadway, putting down new chip seal and other fixes to the roadway surface. That maintenance surface treatment work… for the 12 miles in Winter Park to the top of Berthoud Pass… added up to $913,149 out of $2,473,600, (from 2021-22)” stated Elise Thatcher, CDOT’s Region 3 communications manager.
Thatcher added that maintenance surface treatment does not include engineering projects, such as recent resurfacing projects on U.S. 40 and Colorado Highway 13 near Craig.
CDOT anticipates that it will spend approximately $277, 600 on maintenance roadway surface repairs in Grand County for July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023. Crews were expected to do repairs the week of April 10, but avalanches diverted them to clearing the snow off of the highway. Then crews were scheduled to arrive the week of April 24, but a snowy forecast postponed pothole repairs again.
“Patching on U.S. 40 is rescheduled due to snow and wintry weather in the forecast. Patching potholes requires warmer weather,” Thatcher stated in an email to Sky-Hi News. “CDOT is coordinating with crews to patch potholes in Winter Park as soon as the weather improves.”
She explained that the statewide Transportation Commission recently approved $25 million to improve roadways with very poor surface conditions, especially areas with poor conditions due to the heavy snow this winter. The department is assessing which roadways qualify for the funding, and lots of potholes qualify as poor surface conditions, according to Thatcher.
“CDOT is very aware of the potholes and poor conditions on U.S. 40 and is determined to improve those conditions,” she stated in the email.
Currently, more than $70,000 has been spent on patching potholes this spring in Grand County, according to CDOT.
County Road and Bridge
Grand County Road and Bridge is responsible for 780 miles of road, and only 80 miles are asphalt. Although U.S. 40 runs through the county, the county is not responsible for the highway.
The county started fixing the roads it maintains at the end of March since they don’t want the potholes to multiply. Crews start working as soon as possible in the spring and have supervisors from the department tracking needed repairs.
Chris Baer, the Road and Bridge superintendent, thinks that CDOT is doing the best it can considering the weather and the fact that CDOT’s crews are understaffed. However, in the 35 years he has lived here, this is the worst he has seen the highway.
“They (CDOT) are making an honest effort to do the best they can,” said Baer. “They may need to put a little more urgency to Grand County because it has become a safety factor and it is getting worse, and we’re seeing people get in accidents or getting flat tires.”
Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin recently caught the ear of U.S. Rep Joe Neguse and used the opportunity to tell him about the public safety concern the condition of the highway presents.
“It causes people to swerve into traffic lanes to try to avoid potholes and we’re going to face a head-on (collision) at some point,” Schroetlin told Neguse during his visit on April 6.
Grand County commissioners have met with CDOT about their concerns too. Commissioner Randy George expressed his concerns with CDOT Region 3 East Program Engineer Karen Berdoulay at a meeting on March 14.
“We need to make sure that we patch, but we also need to make sure that we have an overall serious maintenance effort to hold U.S. 40 from further degradation,” George said while speaking to Berdoulay at the commissioner meeting. “Especially when we have a closure at Vail Pass or we have a closure in Glenwood, the truck traffic is just beating this highway up.”
Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos says that the disrepair of U.S. 40 on Berthoud Pass and through the town is unprecedented, and it requires long-term improvements rather than simply patching potholes. He is concerned that the pothole repair will not be completed in time for the busy summer season.
“While we understand CDOT is postponing work on highway 40 due to the anticipated weather, they need to make significant progress fixing this critical road in our community. In addition to patching potholes, CDOT needs to use the additional funds to complete road patching before Ride the Rockies and the start of our summer tourism season.” said Kutrumbos. “We are happy to work with CDOT to address housing issues so they can adequately staff our district permanently.”
On April 27, Grand County and all of its municipalities sent a signed letter to Governor Jared Polis stating their concerns about the dangerous conditions they say exist on U.S. 40. The mayors from Winter Park, Fraser, Granby, Grand Lake, Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling, along with county commissioners Richard Cimino, Randal George and Merrit Linke all signed the letter.
“We understand that CDOT — like our own agencies — has staffing issues in our region,” the letter stated. “Our towns and the county have offered to work collaboratively with CDOT to address thee serious safety issues. However, Region 3’s commitments to bring crews in from other areas to fix potholes have not been met.”
CDOT had crews here this week to patch potholes on the highway near Hot Sulphur Springs, then near Windy Gap and continuing east. Next week a larger crew from Pueblo will patch potholes on the highway from approximately milepost 230, which is just east of Winter Park, to milepost 243.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.
Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.
If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.