Roads could take a hit with Pitkin County budget cuts |

Roads could take a hit with Pitkin County budget cuts

Janet Urquhart
Aspen correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Pitkin County residents won’t likely notice the impact of budget cuts in county government next year, but one cutback won’t remain invisible indefinitely – especially to anyone who drives on county roads.

The county reduced its 2010 budget for general operations, including social services and its road and bridge fund, by 6.8 percent. To do so, it cut its capital projects budget for roads and bridges by roughly $1.5 million in conjunction with other spending reductions.

“Without making that adjustment, we would have made more severe reductions in services to the community,” County Manager Hilary Fletcher said.

There are both maintenance and capital budgets for roads and bridges; the fund for maintenance – plowing snow, filling potholes and restriping pavement, for example – remains intact, but the capital fund has been cut from what had been an annual allocation of $1.8 to $1.9 million to just $400,000 for 2010.

That’s the fund that allows the county to repave, or chip and seal, its 111 miles of asphalt roads, to improve intersections, rebuild bridges and that sort of thing, said Brian Pettet, director of public works. The upgrades are often safety-related.

“The $400,000 doesn’t hardly do anything for the county road system,” he said.

County roads include virtually everything that isn’t a municipal street or Colorado Highway 82. The county maintains such heavily traveled routes as Maroon Creek and Castle Creek roads, McLain Flats Road, Watson Divide Road, Brush Creek Road, Frying Pan Road and many others.

When county commissioners gather for a retreat in the spring, the road capital budget will be on the agenda, vowed Fletcher, who has called for a “serious conversation about the county’s ability to fund its road plan.”

The county can’t keep up its road system over the long term with $400,000 annually, though the public isn’t likely to notice the effect of the budget cut immediately, Pettet said.

“A lot of times, people don’t see the decline until [a road] actually fails,” he said. “The best way to maintain a road is before it actually fails.”

Projects the county will put off include rebuilding the road system at the Aspen Business Center and improving what Pettet called a dangerous intersection where Smith Way, McLain Flats Road and Upper River Road converge near Woody Creek.

In 2008, Pitkin County voters narrowly rejected a proposed property tax that would have dedicated funds to county roads over the next 20 years by increasing the property tax rate by two mills.

The vote came after an outside auditor recommended the county spend $5.4 million annually to maintain its roads over the next 20 years, based on such factors as traffic volumes, road condition and the existing condition of road bases.

It’s time to talk again about a sustainable funding course for roads and bridges, Pettet said.

“I think that discussion needs to be had again,” he said.

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