Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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When financial times get tight, citizens rightly expect their government to carefully manage every penny. Sometimes, even a hole in a freshly paved road raises questions.
That was the case this week concerning a hole in the middle of a street in Steamboat Springs. If you take a ride to the corner of 11th Street and Crawford Avenue, you'll be struck by two observations that raised questions for residents of that neighborhood.
As you approach the intersection, you'll notice that Crawford and 11th recently have been repaved. But, as you reach the intersection, you'll also realize the brand new blacktop has a brand new hole in the middle of Crawford Avenue.
The new pavement is courtesy of the city of Steamboat Springs.
The new hole is courtesy of Atmos Energy.
Granted, the hole in the refurbished street is small. But, given the pristine condition of the new pavement, you can't help but notice the damage to the street.
How new is the hole in relation to the resurfaced road?
Residents of the neighborhood report that within days of the repaving, a crew from Atmos was applying markings to the road and shortly thereafter began digging a hole to access the gas line under the street.
Admittedly, one new hole dug on one newly repaved street seems like an inconsequential matter. After all, the hole is only several square feet and will be patched at fairly little expense.
But, as commonsense dictates the patched hole will cause the newly resurfaced road to break down prematurely - particularly as city snowplows repeatedly scrape the patch - concerned citizens were right to ask why the city and Atmos didn't coordinate the work on Crawford Avenue. Fortunately, Public Works Director Philo Shelton provided a seemingly good answer yesterday to the neighborhood's concerns.
According to Shelton, the hole is the result of an unforeseeable event that required Atmos to work on a gas line from a residence in the neighborhood to the main line under the street after the paving of the street already was completed as scheduled. Unfortunately, no sooner had the city repaved Crawford Avenue than Atmos had to access the gas line under the street to conduct the unexpected work.
Now, there are some - especially within government - who believe that citizens who raise questions about one line item in a budget or one small hole on one street are being picayune. But, for those who feel that way, there is a one-word response that is exceedingly apropos given recent road work in downtown Steamboat.
Thermoplastic crosswalk markings applied by the Colorado Department of Transportation last fall along Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat. The markings - costing five to 10 times as much as traditional painted crosswalks - were applied in spite of commonsense warnings from citizens and experts alike that the thermoplastic would not withstand scraping by snowplows. Further, it was a waste of tax dollars to use the more expensive thermoplastic, instead of paint, given that Lincoln Avenue already was scheduled to be completely renovated this summer - meaning the thermoplastic would be removed anyway.
As it turns out, the commonsense predictions of citizens proved far more accurate than those of CDOT and Steamboat's Public Works Department as the thermoplastic didn't even survive last winter - much less the predicted three to four years.
After the first snowfall, the thermoplastic already was chipping. By January, many crosswalks were shredded. By March, contrary to an initial denial by Shelton, city workers were scraping the remaining markings off the street as chunks of plastic were littering streets, gutters, sewers and sidewalks alike.
So, while concerns from citizens that the hole on Crawford Avenue was an example of wasteful double-work on the part of the city and Atmos appear to be a false alarm, let's hope our citizens remain vigilant and keep questioning whether their government is operating with commonsense.
Let's further hope that our government officials at all levels - local, state and federal - actually listen to citizens when they raise questions and concerns about the work of government during these challenging times instead of dismissing those concerns and wasting dwindling resources.
To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net