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Green light for Piedra Road project

Better late than never.

The reconstruction of Piedra Road is looking more like a reality for this summer following this week’s green light to put the project out to bid, contrary to the public prediction of one county commissioner earlier this year that construction would not begin before 2014.

Archuleta County Public Works Director Ken Feyen announced Wednesday that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), who granted Archuleta County the majority of the funding for the Piedra Road reconstruction project, had given the go-ahead to proceed with the building phase.

“We are released to go to construction,” Feyen said.

Funding for the reconstruction is coming from a $3.5 million grant from Public Lands Highway (PLH) discretionary funding by the FHWA, with the Colorado Department of Transportation administering the grant.

The county received that grant in August 2012, also pledging $500,000 to reconstruct a portion of Piedra Road, making for a total of $4 million for the project.

Since August, county staff has worked to put an IGA in place between the county and CDOT and gain all needed clearances to put the project out for bid, with a hope of construction taking place this summer.

The last clearance, the environmental clearance, came Thursday, July 6, and was complicated by the presence of one Pagosa skyrocket plant within the construction area (more information below).

And while the bid process to find a contractor for the project will take time, Feyen estimates that construction could begin by late July at the earliest, putting the anticipated finish date in September or October.

The county will allow 120 days for the contract time to complete the project, but Feyen previously anticipated the bulk of the work would take 60-90 days due to the need to detour traffic from Piedra Road and any weather interferences, as well as other variables.

Once construction starts, Feyen said motorists can expect major delays and detours along Piedra Road for the duration of the project.

Potentially complicating the project’s timeline, though, is the fact that the project will be bid out so late in the year. Because the project is an expensive, full-depth reclamation of the road, a large civil contractor with specialized equipment and a larger bonding capacity is required, Feyen explained.

Whether or not those contractors are already at work for the summer is unknown, or what the bid price will be with the late-season bidding, Feyen said.

It is anticipated that between 3 and 3.5 miles of the road will be reconstructed with the funding due to federal regulations that must be applied to the project.

Reconstruction of the road will begin at the cattle guard identifying the boundary between the county road and forest service road (where the pavement ends near Hatcher Lake) and work south towards U.S. 160.

Further adding cost to the project are changes that had to be made to the plan following the discovery of a single skyrocket plant along the Piedra Road corridor.

Because of that, Feyen said the area that must be protected, mitigated and reclaimed was expanded on both sides of the road in the area where the plant was found. Feyen was unsure how much of an added cost the environmental requirements would be.

The plan is to have the chosen construction firm mill up the existing pavement on the road, mix it with a soil stabilizer (such as concrete or lime) and re-lay it. A total of five inches of asphalt would then be laid over the top of the reclaimed, stronger base pavement. That process is known as full-depth reclamation.

According to the project narrative, work will include reconstructing the subgrade (as above) and widening travel lanes to a uniform 12 feet. Feyen added that gravel shoulders will be added to each side of the roadway.

The road

Piedra Road is considered a federal forest highway, and is the most-traveled county road in Archuleta County, according to county staff.

The project narrative submitted with the grant application states: “Approximately 348,000 acres of the San Juan National Forest, of which 100,000 acres are wilderness, are accessed via CR 600, FS 631 (Piedra Road). Piedra Road is the connecting link between US Hwy. 160 and this area of the San Juan National Forest and is the most heavily traveled route in the Pagosa Ranger District.”

The narrative continues to note that the road is the only connection the residents of southern Hinsdale County have to a full-service community, and estimates that 75,000-100,000 visitors per year use the road for recreational reasons.

In addition to recreation, the narrative notes grazing, timber, firewood gathering and biomass operations that take place within the San Juan National Forest.

With that heavy use, the condition of Piedra Road has deteriorated to the point of permanent “road damage” signs being installed.

The county recently applied for another federal grant in attempts to be able to reconstruct an additional portion of the road in future years.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on June 13, 2013.