Archuleta County may have $4 million dollars slated to go toward the repaving of Piedra Road, but with costs for the project escalating due to federal requirements, less of the road may be repaved than was originally anticipated.
In August 2012, the county was awarded a $3.5 million grant from Public Lands Highway (PLH) discretionary funding by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
In addition to that $3.5 million, the county has pledged another $500,000 from Road and Bridge funds to the project, making for $4 million to reconstruct as much of the 6.2-mile road as possible.
But now, with federal regulations that must be applied to the project because of the federal grant received, the cost per mile for construction is anticipated to rise 10-15 percent, meaning less of the road will be repaved.
According to Ken Feyen, public works director, in the county’s grant application, Piedra Road was identified as a primary road for accessing public lands (the San Juan National Forest). The road is also identified by the Colorado Department of Transportation (who will oversee the project) as a major collector road.
However, by identifying the road as a primary road and receiving federal funds for the project, among other regulations, the Davis Bacon Act must be applied, which regulates wages on federal projects, with the wage amounts determined at the federal level.
Those wages, Feyen said, “are generally higher than the prevailing wages in the local community” and could raise the total cost of the project.
That, paired with asphalt and other costs, could mean a 10-15 percent cost increase, Feyen said.
To avoid the application of Davis Bacon to the project, the county would have to reclassify the road as a minor collector road with CDOT, which would put the county’s receipt of the grant in jeopardy, Feyen explained.
So, to be able to repave any of the road, Feyen said the county will not try to reclassify the road and will pay the higher wages.
Originally, Feyen said, the county hoped to repave 3-5 miles of the road, but increased costs mean the amount done will likely be on the low end of that estimate.
“It’s definitely going to have an impact,” Feyen said.
Feyen said the county still intends to begin the repaving work at the cattle guard at the north end of the paved portion of Piedra Road and work south.
But the cost is not the only hurdle left for the county to clear.
Feyen met with CDOT staff on Tuesday for an initial plan review that lasted about seven hours, and is one of the first steps in gaining environmental (a single Pagosa skyrocket plant was found in the area), right of way, utility and other clearances.
“There are a lot of hurdles that still have to be crossed,” Feyen said.
Should those hurdles be cleared easily and in a timely manner, Feyen said the project will remain on track to be put out to bid in May, with an anticipated start of construction in mid July.
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.
The narrative 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 existing pavement of Piedra Road shows signs of severe distress through alligator, longitudinal, and transverse cracking due to displacement and failure of the supporting subgrade material,” the project narrative states.
The narrative continues, “Due to the severe distress of the pavement, this project serves as a rehabilitation and repair, with improvements to safety. Also, due to the narrow lane width (10’ - 11’) and the narrow shoulders (1’ - 2’), the roadway offers little forgiveness to driver’s creeping outside the travel lanes.”
The narrative further notes the significant snowfall of the area as an added concern.
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.
Feyen previously stated that the plan is to have the chosen firm mill up the existing pavement on the road, mix it with a soil stabilizer (such as concrete or lime) and relay it. Asphalt would then be laid over the top of the reclaimed pavement.
According to the project narrative, work will include reconstructing the subgrade (as above), widening travel lanes to a uniform 12 feet. Feyen added that gravel shoulders will be added to each side of the roadway.
Throughout construction, traffic is anticipated to be affected, with that traffic likely diverted to North Pagosa Boulevard.