County to form Road Task Force

In an effort to gain broad public support — and input — for its four-year road plan and a forthcoming road improvement ballot question, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approved the formation of a road advisory task force Tuesday.

According to Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte, the five-member team will assist county staff in prioritizing road projects. In addition, the task force will presumably help distill public comment gathered at two road project forums scheduled for July and August. Those comments, coupled with staff input, will help create the four-year road improvement plan.

Based on discussions Tuesday, it appears any county resident, regardless of their personal or professional experience, can apply. However, Schulte said the county may list desirable qualifications in a recruitment advertisement due out May 28.

Task force appointments are scheduled for June 23.

Once the task force is in place and the public forums are complete, county staff intend to have the four-year road plan ready for board adoption by mid-September.

The decision to form a road advisory task force is part of the county’s long-term push to repair its aging and in some cases, decrepit, road infrastructure.

The first step to that end occurred May 5 when the Board of County Commissioners approved a $5 million loan with Wells Fargo, the proceeds of which — roughly $4 million — will be used to repave Park Avenue and to tackle a number of other road projects this summer. In addition, loan proceeds will be used to fund road projects — identified through the public scoping process — for the 2010 construction season.

Given that projects identified for 2010 are successfully completed, the commissioners may push for a $12 million ballot question in November 2010 that would provide early payback for the Wells Fargo loan and funding for road improvements in 2011 and beyond.

During the March 29 road forum, staff and the commissioners said gaining voter trust during the next two summers is key to the success of the ballot question, and they acknowledged county leadership has a formidable credibility problem to overcome.

And justifiably so.

Promises to make good on road projects have come and gone throughout the county’s recent history and Holiday Avenue provides a case in point.

According to the 2007 budget, the board of county commissioners under John Egan, Robin Schiro and Ronnie Zaday earmarked $260,000 for the reconstruction of Holiday Avenue. (The same budget also earmarks dollars for Park Avenue reconstruction.) The board approved the budget Dec. 14, 2006.

Soon thereafter, (Feb. 13, 2007) former public works director Alan Zumwalt reported that Holiday Avenue design work was scheduled for May 2007.

According to Zumwalt’s plan, the board followed through and on April 3, 2007, the commissioners, including current commissioner Bob Moomaw, approved a contract with Smith Engineering for “improvements to four county roads,” including the “total reconstruction” of Holiday Avenue.

Soon thereafter, the county financial crisis hit, and county staff suspended virtually all road projects for that spring and summer’s construction season, including Park Avenue and Holiday Avenue.

After a more than a year of tumult, followed by financial reconstruction and relative stability, discussion of Holiday and Park avenues reemerged during a road and bridge report delivered by interim road and bridge manager Chris Tanner.

According to meeting minutes for Feb. 5, 2008, Tanner reports, “Paving of Holiday Drive, Park Avenue and Trails Boulevard are still in the works.”

Tanner’s report was followed by legislative action June 3, 2008, when commissioners Moomaw, Schiro and Zaday voted to seek two bids for reconstructing Holiday Avenue — one for chip sealing, the other for paving.

In addition to Moomaw, Schulte was part of those discussions.

With bids obtained, the board then voted June 24, 2008, to chip seal Holiday Avenue. According to the vote and the motion put forth, the county would call the project “maintenance” and would take $52,384 from the Ballot Issue 1A road fund.

Nevertheless, and despite a clear trail of legislative and staff action, Holiday Avenue remains unpaved. Meanwhile, other projects, such as Park Avenue and County Road 975 — products of past budgets and former board decisions — have been funded and resurrected.

Responding to questions on the lack of follow through, Schulte said subsequent engineering analysis indicated chip sealing wasn’t an appropriate remedy.

“From an engineering standpoint, chip sealing wasn’t the right fix,” said Schulte.

Schulte said repair and reconstruction of Holiday Avenue has remained forefront in his mind, and to that end, he approved a change order Wednesday for design work and construction management with Davis Engineering for Holiday Avenue from Midiron Drive to Masters Circle.

“Our belief is that we can realize some cost efficiencies by combining that with Park Avenue,” Schulte said. “It is our desire to do that (reconstruction) this season, but that remains to be seen depending on what the bids come back for and what the ultimate price may be.”

james@pagosasun.com