Steamboat Springs Spring has come early to Routt County's 379 miles of unpaved roads, and County Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper sees definite signs it's going to be a long season.
Already, isolated portions of the county road system are mired in eight-inch ruts, and that situation could get worse, Draper said.
"The roads will probably get worse before they get better," Draper said. "We can't go out and blade the (gravel) because it's a sloppy mess. The frost is going out of the gravel roads and spring is going to last a while."
Draper said another factor is leading to exceptionally bad conditions in isolated portions of the county road system.
Some sections of road are experiencing muddy ruts that are 6 to 8 inches deep. The trouble spots include a steep hill on County Road 42 west of Steamboat Springs, beyond where it goes by the new Silver Spur Estates subdivision. In addition, County Road 18, beyond Lake Catamount, near where it merges with County Road 14B, is a "mess," Draper said.
Dana Stimmel has lived on C.R. 42 for more than 15 years. She said Tuesday the road is in better shape than it was a week ago thanks to a repair county road crews made to the hill.
"It was pretty much a mud bog before," Stimmel said. "Before they repaired it there was no crown. Water ran down the hill and there were mud pits. There was only room for one vehicle to get through."
Draper attributes the problems to heavy construction traffic that the roads were never built to withstand. Many people don't realize it, Draper said, but most of the county's roads were never built at all they just happened.
Historically, Draper explained, most of the county's unpaved roads appeared along traditional routes used by ranchers and farmers on their way to visit neighbors or go to town.
They weren't constructed in the modern sense of performing engineering work and importing road base to strengthen them. Still, over time and through moderate use, the roads built up a "crust" of native materials between 8 and 12 inches deep in the roads. Although it wasn't intended, that crust was able to support the weight of modern cars and trucks.
Now, Draper said, heavy cement and gravel trucks needed to build large rural homes are breaking down that crust. The actual damage takes place in the summer, Draper said, but it doesn't become apparent until spring when soils in the roads become saturated with water and large ruts form.
The problem can't be solved by an application of three-quarter inch gravel to the surface of the road, Draper said. A real solution would require reworking the road and applying a layer of larger "pit run" beneath the surface.