Steamboat Springs The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night acknowledged the concerns of bicyclists and agreed to look for opportunities to smooth things over.
More than 80 people overflowed the commissioners' hearing room for a special meeting that lasted 2 1/2 hours. Most of them were road cyclists who came to express their dismay at the county's policy of maintaining its roads with an admittedly aggressive chip-and-seal program.
In particular, the cyclists are unhappy with the County Road and Bridge Department's preference for three-quarter-inch stones in their chip-seal mix, when it could be using less objectionable three-eighth-inch stones. The bigger stones make for an unpleasantly bumpy ride that isn't as safe, they said.
"Our single goal is to get smooth surfaces on county roads with the fewest possible stones," cycling spokesman Lyman Orton told the county officials.
After listening to more than two hours of polite but impassioned pleas, the commissioners said that during next month's budget process, they would work with Road and Bridge Supervisor Paul Draper on the problem. They hope to identify popular cycling roads that are due for a chip-seal process and look for opportunities to use the smaller stones. They said their intent is to leave behind a smoother surface for the bicycling enthusiasts and to gain a better understanding of which size stone offers the most durable and cost-effective solution.
"Where I would like us to go," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said, "is to identify what are the most traveled (county roads) by the bicycling public. What we may end up with as a compromise is that we get a smoother surface, and over time, we get a better handle on costs and measure durability."
Commissioners Dan Ellison (who rode his bike over a new chip-seal section on County Road 129 during the weekend) and Doug Monger agreed.
"You guys need to know we heard you, and you are being taken seriously," Monger said. The county shouldn't take the approach that "one size fits all for its roads," Monger added.
The commissioners tempered their assurances by pointing out that the county has 940 miles of public roads, 152 of them "surfaced," and limited funds to maintain them. The majority of the county's road maintenance budget -- about $2.3 million annually -- is money from gasoline and auto parts taxes that is returned to the county by the state. The county tries to balance its annual budget for chip-and-seal and paving between $750,000 and $1 million, Draper said. Spending that money when the roads are still in good shape staves off higher repair bills that would result if the county put off maintenance, he added.
Draper was frank with the gathering: "Our goal hasn't been smooth roads, as you are aware," Draper said. "Our goal has been durability."
Draper made the case that when it comes to preventive maintenance, the larger three-quarter-inch stones provide a more durable surface treatment of the county's paved roads. Therefore, he said they are more cost effective. He bases his conclusion on personal experience.
"We seek the best surface treatment with the best economic return," Draper said. "We armor the road. It is an aggressive (method). If it wasn't in the best interest of the taxpayer, we wouldn't put it out there."
Draper said the cost of applying three-eighths-inch chip-and-seal to a mile of road surface is $24,358. The cost of applying three-quarter inch chip-seal is slightly more -- $25,782. But because the three-quarter-inch stone treatment is estimated to last five to seven years, and the three-eighths treatment lasts just three to five years, Draper concluded the larger rock is less expensive. The cost works out to $3,683 per year, per mile for the bigger stones, versus $4,871 per year for the smaller stones.
However, Tony Connell, who is in the asphalt paving business, challenged Draper's numbers on the durability of the smaller stones. He said that they were based on bids provided to the city of Steamboat Springs, and because municipal streets see more traffic and more risk, they aren't comparable. Connell said the last time the county used a three-eighths inch chip seal on C.R. 33 in 1995, it cost $14,283 per mile.
Much of the testimony the commissioners heard Tuesday night concerned the growing number of baby boomers who are shifting from mountain biking to road biking, and the economic benefits the sports can bring to a resort town. Other people attending the meeting had done their own Internet research on road maintenance, and argued that the county had not looked at all of the alternatives.
Dan Hagney of Moots, a bicycle manufacturing company in Steamboat, said that although his company built its name on mountain bikes, 60 percent of its sales this year were generated by road bikes.
"I call it the Lance Armstrong effect," Hagney said.
Stuart Handloff told the commissioners that for the investment they are making in asphalt and chip-and-seal each year, he doesn't think they invest enough in quality control during the application process.
Scott Schlapkohl of the cycling club Routt County Riders said he's worried that Routt County's reputation as a destination for cyclists is slipping.
"These roads are not biking friendly," Schlapkohl said. "They may be solid but they are not friendly."
Orton said cyclists are part of Steamboat's mainstream population, one that is devoted to a healthy lifestyle.
"We're not the fringe," Orton said. "We're mainstream. Cyclists can no longer be marginalized. There's gray hair in this audience!"
The commissioners asked the group to designate two members to serve as an informal liaison team to keep in touch with the county about its progress on the chip-and-seal issue.
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