Potholes plague CDOT project plans along US Highway 40
If you’ve driven between the top of Berthoud Pass and the town of Winter Park lately, you’ve seen the terrible road conditions along that stretch of U.S. Highway 40.
According Matt Meyer, operations manager at Fraser Tire and Auto, mechanics at the shop responded to an average of two customers per day for the last several months that have blown out their tires on those miles. That number soared to 10 to 15 incidents per day back in March, when tourists flocked to Grand County for spring break. Meyer said they maxed out at 30 over the spring, “the amount we could fix in one day.”
In one particularly alarming story, a woman blew her two passenger-side tires on the way into Winter Park after hitting a pothole, had them fixed at Fraser Tire and Auto, and blew them again as she drove back along the same stretch of road, said Meyer.
The auto-body shop replaced this set of tires free of charge, but all of these incidents demonstrate the dire need for the Colorado Department of Transportation to fix the damaged stretch of road.
According to CDOT’s Region 3 Communications Manager, Elise Thatcher, though, this hasn’t happened because of factors relating to weather and traffic in and out of Grand County over Berthoud Pass.
She said the stretch of road below Berthoud Pass before Winter Park Resort is notoriously bad because snowplow operators do not have enough space to deposit the snow they plow off the road in the winter. Snowmelt then runs down the road itself instead of alongside it.
“That makes the road break apart more easily,” Thatcher said. “There’s also more freeze-thaw in that area, which creates cracks.”
Thatcher said CDOT does patch potholes, but that it has to be done mostly at night.
“This limits the time we can do it safely,” Thatcher said. “And due to how the patching material works, the pothole has to be dry and free of all water and ice. That’s so the material can stay in the hole and really bond. But often what happens (in spring) is that freeze-thaw will break up an area right next to the patch and then the next hole develops.”
There are other factors contributing to the conditions that aren’t people- or weather-related, said Thatcher.
According to state statutes, CDOT has to prioritize projects that are chosen and recommended by a Transportation Planning Commission, which represents different planning regions throughout the state.
County Commissioner Kris Manguso and Fraser Trustee Brian Cerkvenik have put forth their wishes during planning commission meetings.
Manguso told Sky-Hi News that the commissioners “can push for CDOT to fix roads, but we can’t actually decide when the roads are fixed.”
Thatcher said CDOT can weigh in with recommendations and preferences, but the planning commissions are where the agency’s guidance comes from.
Part of what they prioritize depends on how much money CDOT has readily available.
“I think the best way to think of it is a combo of what locals want us to prioritize and how much it costs to do necessary improvements,” said Thatcher. “So, for example, there are things that would be really nice to improve but is it worth the financial impact compared to what needs to be done on other highways?”
But Cerkvenik said that what he has gathered in the three Northwest Transportation Planning Commission meetings he’s attended is that “the loud members get things done.”
For instance, Heather Sloop is the chairperson in Steamboat, “and it’s amazing how many projects there are happening in Steamboat right now,” Cerkvenik said. “And then Kris Manguso is another loud one and it’s amazing how many projects are happening in Kremmling. I was pretty loud in the first meeting and got slightly scolded by Manguso for being loud too early, but I am going to keep being loud in the meetings.
“It’s shocking how bad the road is,” Cerkvenik added. “Our section of Highway 40 gets twice as much, if not three times as much, traffic as anywhere else in the Northwest (region), and it’s still being neglected the way you see it every day.”
Cerkvenik said he emailed CDOT a month ago, asking how the agency was prioritizing Berthoud Pass.
“They basically said we don’t have enough staff. They had a million excuses as to why Highway 40 wasn’t getting done. Their response was, ‘We’ll get to it when we get to it,” Cerkvenik said.
Cerkvenik also discovered that the last time the road was resurfaced, in 2016, the asphalt CDOT used, which came from Silverthorne, wasn’t up to standard.
“When it’s delivered it has to be a certain temperature or it won’t bind the way should and it didn’t the last time. That’s why we’re getting the problems we have,” he said.
Cerkvenik added that the several large potholes had been filled when he drove Berthoud Pass the week before last. And Thatcher says CDOT has three patching sessions planned, starting May 24 and 25.
This will come as good news for many drivers, especially those like the woman who blew four tires in a 24-hour stretch on the ill-fated stretch of Highway 40, but Thatcher reminds drivers that with the repairs comes inconvenience.
These will include speed reduction and traffic delays, which might not jibe with one’s summer vacation plans.
CDOT has two additional maintenance sessions lined up in addition to the May dates: June 6-7 and June 14-15.
This story has been updated from the print version to remove a mistake about Fraser’s Town Manager.
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