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

Read Part One

We’re continuing to listen in to the April 11 Board of County Commissioner’s work session, during which Archuleta County Engineer Bob Perry was discussing with the commissioners, the long-range plans for the maintenance and upgrading of the County roads.

Or maybe, the “downgrading of County roads” is a more accurate phrase, in some cases?

Commissioner Steve Wadley had just finished reminding us that, once upon a time, the maintenance of your local road (or lack thereof) often depended upon your personal friendship with one of the commissioners (or your lack thereof.) He professed that such is no longer the case; road maintenance decisions are no longer based on friendships and political influence, but rather, upon established policies and rational priorities. Road decisions are no longer made at the Commissioner level, but at the Road & Bridge Department staff level.

Commissioner Ronnie Maez:

“What the public needs to understand is… you know, by us implementing this chain of command process, all their issues won’t necessarily get addressed the next day after they call it in. It gets put on a list, a list of priority, and then [Road & Bridge] will get it done, if it’s possible to get it done. That’s the key thing. I think we’ve got a good process, and I think it works.”

Not everyone in the county would agree with Commissioner Maez, that the process ‘works.’ Maybe it works, in the sense that everyone is treated somewhat equitably, but it’s definitely not working in the sense of keeping our county road system from slowly deteriorating, year after year.

Ask, for example, the property owners who live on Dayspring Place.

Potholes on Dayspring Place, near Lake Pagosa. April 2017. A close inspection reveals historical traces of asphalt pavement.

Dayspring Place, a dead-end road near Lake Pagosa, is currently a minefield of potholes. One can easily imagine that one is driving a rural road in a third-world country.

We’ll hear more about Dayspring Place a bit later. But first, here’s County Administrator Bentley Henderson presenting the budget issue near at hand:

“So, one of the other pieces of our conversation this morning is to talk about our Capital Improvement construction projects for 2017. We’re starting to get engineers’ estimates on costs… and the costs are coming in quite a bit higher than what we had anticipated. So we’re having to look at re-prioritizing some of these projects…

“When we started getting engineers estimates on a couple of the bigger projects, one that was significantly higher than we anticipated was the project on Backswing and East Golf. Almost three times what we anticipated.”

Commissioner Steve Wadley gave a cry of surprise. “Oh, my god.”

The project had been estimated at $400,000, based on ‘visible road conditions.’ The engineers recently priced the job at $1.1 million, based on ‘actual road conditions.’ Which is to say, Archuleta County’s roads are, in some cases, ‘worse than they look.’

County Engineer Bob Perry:

“We have a tremendous number of driveways, we have a lot of cross-culverts; there’s a significant drainage issue. And then, the soils in that area are not really, really good, so it’s going to require more base, more structure. That’s why the original asphalt road — the chip seal road — that was in there… the reason why it fell apart so quickly, was that they really didn’t address those soil issues.”

Based on my research into our community road issues over the past ten years, I believe that this pavement problem is nearly universal, throughout Archuleta County. Our roads were originally constructed as rural gravel roads, and when past commissioners decided to pave some of the more heavily traveled roads with asphalt, the work was often done in a slipshod manner without creating a proper road base for the asphalt. Whether this was done out of ignorance or incompetence — or because past commissioners were simply trying to cut corners, to save a few bucks — I cannot say. But here we are, faced with the reconstruction of paved roads that were not properly constructed the first time around.

Administrator Henderson:

“It’s a legacy issue. And unfortunately, that legacy issue has put us in a significant bind in terms of appropriated funding, and how far we can stretch it.”

Commissioner Wadley:

“We don’t want to do it the wrong way. There’s an old saying, ‘If you can’t afford to do it right, can you afford to do it over?’”

Bob Perry:

“That’s what we’re doing. We’re doing it over.”

Due to the new estimates, it appears the County did not appropriate enough money to handle all the capital projects planned for 2017. The suggestion from staff is to delay a planned reconstruction of the southern stretch of North Pagosa until 2018, and to proceed with the (now more expensive) project on Backswing and East Golf.

This is perhaps an unfortunate delay, considering that the southern portion of North Pagosa is, according to Bob Perry, the busiest section of road in the county. But I guess we’ve all gotten used to waiting on road repairs.

On the brighter side of things, the delay will allow the County to spend more time engineering the North Pagosa project, so that, in the words of Administrator Henderson, “we’ll have a better product moving forward.”

Commissioner Maez raised a question about “secondary roads.” The County’s 5-Year Road Plan defines roads as either ‘Primary’ or ‘Secondary’ — but Commissioner Maez apparently has the impression that certain roads don’t even rate the ‘Secondary’ label.

“Like, on some of the roads that are not even ‘secondary roads,’ but they’re even further down the line… other access roads… I mean, like driving down Dayspring Place… it’s pretty bad. How do those roads rate with the others on the list?”

Bob Perry:

“Well, Dayspring doesn’t rate, because it’s a cul de sac. Basically, we have our Primary roads and our Secondary roads. Our real low ADT roads, I call them our ‘Tertiary roads’ because they get graded once a year, and then they get snowplowed. So these cul de sacs don’t get any additional County attention…”

Commissioner Maez:

“That road might be particularly difficult because it’s still got some of what you might call ‘pavement’ on there.”

I found this conversation curious, because the 2011 5-Year Plan specifically called for “patching” of Dayspring Place — defined in that plan as a ‘Secondary’ road.

“Patching” is, of course, something done only to paved roads. It would appear Archuleta County has thrown up its hands, and is now defining some of our paved roads as ‘Tertiary’ roads — entitled to no asphalt maintenance at all.

Bob Perry:

“Really, the only thing we can offer them, at this stage of the game, is to grind it up and turn it back into a gravel road.

“It’s interesting… over the last month or so, I’ve seen three nationally syndicated articles about communities grinding up asphalt roads and turning them back into gravel roads, because they can’t afford to maintain the asphalt. So it’s not just Archuleta County…”

Read Part Five…

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.