EDITORIAL: If You Build It, They Will Pay… Part Two

Read Part One

As roads deteriorate beyond their reasonably useful life, and with currently estimated funding, the County will be unable to keep up with patching needs. Entire sections of paved roads will deteriorate beyond reasonable repair and the County will be faced with the decision to revert these sections to gravel.

— From the 2011 Archuleta County 5-Year Road Plan

The Archuleta County commissioners were listening to County Engineer Bob Perry discuss the current plans for maintaining — in some fashion — the County’s road system. Mr. Perry is fairly new to our Archuleta County government, having been hired last spring… a few weeks prior to the hiring of his colleague, Public Works Director Susan Goebel-Canning, who sat next to him at the April 11 Board of County Commissioners’ work session.

County Engineer Bob Perry, left, explains the latest plan for County road maintenance at the April 11, 2017 BOCC work session. Also shown, Public Works Director Susan Goebel-Canning, and Commissioner Michael Whiting.

“The 5-Year Road Plan was… we paid a lot of money to get it done, and then it was put on a shelf and I don’t know if it was ever opened again. I know when I opened it, the moths flew out.”

Commissioner Michael Whiting:

“Are you talking about the big binder? I actually used it. When people would come into my office, I could explain that Road and Bridge isn’t just running around at random. It’s not random. It may appear random, but it’s not.”

Bob Perry:

“Basically, [the Plan] was a very thorough job, but it wasn’t realistic, in terms of the money that we have to do things. They set up a plan that we never could afford. So that’s a problem.”

We are now in Year 6 of the Archuleta County Department of Public Works’ 5-Year Road Plan, approved in 2011.

As we saw in Part One yesterday, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published a report on the nation’s infrastructure, and gave the country’s overall road system the grade of “D” — that is to say, just slightly better than an “F” for “Failure.”

The 5-Year Road Plan for Archuleta County, written in 2011, likewise acknowledged the critical condition of the community’s road system — and the critical condition of the annual County budget. From the chapter on paved roads, for example:

Generally speaking, Archuleta County will attempt to patch potholes in all paved roads (estimated to be 44 miles) as potholes are identified each year. As roads deteriorate beyond their reasonably useful life, and with currently estimated funding, the County will be unable to keep up with patching needs. Entire sections of paved roads will deteriorate beyond reasonable repair and the County will be faced with the decision to revert these sections to gravel.

You can download the entire 2011 document here (74 pages.)

The heart of that plan is not, however, the actual paper pages stuck into a binder — even if such a tool might be useful for explaining to a local citizen why their road has been basically ignored since 2011. Reportedly, the heart of the 5-Year Road Plan is an interactive spreadsheet.

The Road and Bridge Department has the following explanation posted on the County website, under the title “The 5-Year Road Plan Explained”:

The spreadsheet tool that constitutes the heart of the 5-Year Road Plan was developed through several iterations to arrive at a decision making tool that produces reasonable results. The spreadsheet itself is not the 5-Year Road Plan. The 5-Year Road Plan was constructed using the spreadsheet to calculate priorities. The spreadsheet must be updated as changes occur (when treatments are completed, assessments are updated, roads are reverted to gravel, etc.) on an annual basis in order to be useful in developing the annual update to the Plan and the Budget.

That same webpage concludes with this statement:

Condition Category… Number of miles… Percentage of all Roads
Excellent… 20.74… 6%
Good… 56.14…  17%
Fair…  119.27…  35%
Poor…  66.12…  20%
Failed/Critical…  75.42…  22%

Totals…  337.69…  100%

Another way to categorize the condition of the County’s roads is that 42% of County roads are in Poor or [Failed] in condition; 58% are in Fair or better condition.

Or, another way to categorize the conditions of the County roads — if you really wanted to get your point across — is that “only 23% of the roads were in ‘Good’ or better condition” when this page was published.

And 261 miles of the County’s 338 miles of road were in “Fair” or worse condition.

It’s a matter of linguistics.

Bob Perry:

“In moving forward this year, we did not address any of the gravel roads in our 5-Year Plan, other than, for instance, Cloman Boulevard, which has the potential to be paved. So that’s going to be part of the 5-Year Plan. Basically, the 5-Year Plan is going to address our paved roads, because those are the roads most people are asking about: ‘What’s the priority?’ “

Paved roads constitute about 44 miles of the County’s 338 miles of road. Or maybe less than 44 miles, if indeed the solution chosen by the County is to grind up the deteriorating asphalt that barely covers some of the paved roads — and “revert these sections to gravel.” Or, alternately, to “dirt.”

County Administrator Bentley Henderson:

“When that 5-Year Road Plan was done, they basically said, ‘Here’s the 5-year plan for paving all of your gravel roads.’ And the total was, what? $65 million, or something. And we know that everyone, ultimately, would love to have the road to their driveway paved, but realistically, that’s not going to happen during the lifetime of anyone sitting in this room.”

Commissioner Whiting:

“You look at every road. Do a traffic count. Look at the condition. And calculate what it would cost to get them all up to minimum standards. And we’ve calculated that it would take $40 million just to get all our gravel roads up to ‘Good’ condition. And that doesn’t even include any of the paved roads…

“I think you have to start out by saying, ‘This is the cost.’ We can’t afford all of it, but what can we afford?”

Yes. What can we afford? I guess that answer varies, depending upon — for example — how much you want to see the community spend $16 million on new law enforcement and court facilities.

Understanding that, when you build something, it has to be maintained.  You build it, and then you pay for it, forever.

Or else, you need a big binder, so you can show people why it can’t possibly be maintained.

Read Part Three…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.