by Rick Langernberg:
With grant funds disappearing and a continual tightening of state and federal dollars, Teller residents won’t reap the benefits of too many new road projects in the unincorporated sections of the county this summer and fall. As a result, the orange code zones won’t be a familiar sight along major thoroughfares. Don’t look for any big improvement enhancements funded by the one-time jackpot era of gaming impact grants and energy mineral dollars. Those boom days are gone—at least for now. Instead, residents should experience steady improvements along Teller’s often bumpy patch of nearly 500-miles of gravel roadway, but nothing dramatic. In fact, the Teller transportation crew will again be concentrating on a “back to basics” approach with a renewed emphasis on regular road maintenance.
According to transportations operations supervisor Brad Shaw, “this includes dust control, culvert installation and repair, hard surface patching and pothole repair. We will also be performing the normal high degree of service levels such as route grading and snow removal as in the past years.” That approach is just fine with the Teller County Commissioners, who enthusiastically gave the transportation department leaders the thumbs-up last week for their 2012 road maintenance and improvement plan. This annual document, part of a regular approval process started in 2006, presents an overall game plan for handling Teller’s 563 miles of roads, with 491 consisting of gravel surfaces. As in the past, the commissioners were highly complimentary of the work done by the transportation department. “It is unbelievable,” said Jim Ignatius, chairman of the Teller County Commissioners, in recognizing their achievements with limited funds and a small staff. Ignatius, who leaves office in January, played a key role, along with former commissioner Bob Campbell, in reorganizing the transportation department by allowing the workers more leeway in how they handled grading and snow removal duties.
The new approach, according to most reports, has worked much better than eight to 10 years ago, when some county residents were ready for an open rebellion following a snow storm that left many people stranded for days. Brian Walker, a District One county commissioner candidate, stated that he expected to hear reams of complaints from citizens regarding the state of the roads, a usual area of concern among rural residents. But to his surprise, Walker said he received hardly any complaints regarding roads and encountered a considerable amount of praise. And for those that did complain, he reported that they were satisfied with the response they got from the transportation agency.
The only problem now is money. Grant funding sources are drying up, meaning that not many big capital projects will occur this year. According to Shaw, a number of roads must be addressed that aren’t eligible for grants. Unlike past years, the plan is devoid of big improvement projects and only has one main reconstruction effort on the books. “The goal is to keep the whole road system maintained and steadily improve areas as needed in 2012,” said Shaw. Some of the highlights of the 2012 plan include: *Resurfacing of Circle Street from Hwy. 24 to 2nd Street and 2nd Street from Circle Street to Mesa Drive. Also, gravel will be added to road areas as needed to avoid repeated responses to problematic areas. *Conducting dust suppression applications on 35 miles throughout the county, aimed at handling gravel roads that receive traffic flows of 300 or more cars a day. This is part of an unfunded mandate and is one of the agency’s more expensive operations. Shaw estimates this dust suppression program costs $350,000 a year. “It’s a lot of money per mile,” commented the transportation supervisor. *Performing much drainage work, with the goal of re-grading all ditches damaged from winter maintenance operations, cleaning out clogged culvers and installing rock checks and drop boxes. The county has three-man culvert crews and has made much progress in dealing with this problem, according to the commissioners. “It is now paying off,” said Ignatius, in describing the agency’s drainage-related work that comprises a good portion of their maintenance duties. *Hard surfacing and maintenance of roads, with an emphasis on patching, pothole repair and shouldering. Road segments presenting safety hazards will take priority. In the summer, the crews will focus their efforts on overlays and repairs, with winter work consisting of crack-sealing operations. *Performing road reconstruction at the intersection of Teller Three and Teller 31 for a project that entails adding base material, shaping of ditches, installing a new surface treatment and replacing culverts. In addition, other aspects of the plan call for much bridge maintenance and the continuation of the current winter snow removal efforts. This is aimed at providing snow plow service to all county roads within 24 hours after a storm has stopped.
This is a big improvement from the previous decade, according to the commissioners. The agency leaders also announced plans to pursue the current grading program that features six dedicated routes, each covering about 70 miles of non-dust suppressed roadways. Pending any emergencies, crew members don’t deviate from their assigned routes. Also, agency representatives plan to remain quite visible in local subdivisions and address various homeowner groups regarding issues of concern. But overall, the budget is much leaner than several years ago. For example, the agency plans to do no road maintenance overlays this year.