Routt County commissioners vote for smoother road surfaces

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners empathized with the road cycling community Tuesday night, voting for smoother riding surfaces on county roads that use chip-and-seal.

The three commissioners unanimously agreed to go beyond the recommendations of their own committee and directed road officials to draft a policy calling for nothing larger than three-eighths-inch gravel chips to be used in resurfacing paved county roads. But first, they asked Road and Bridge Department Director Paul Draper to contact Boulder County officials to determine whether the smaller quarter-inch chips used there could be an effective way to make the roads better for motorists and cyclists.

“A road that’s smoother and safer for bicyclists is safer for gravel trucks, concrete trucks, farm implements and all the other types of uses for our roads,” Commission Chairwoman Diane Mitsch Bush said.

Members of the cycling community thought they had fought this battle in 2004, resulting in a plan to go forward using nothing larger in the chip-and-seal process than three-eighths-inch gravel. Apparently, the commissioners felt the same way, rejecting the half-inch chips that have become the norm since then.

“The reason that we directed that some roads be resurfaced using three-eighths back in 2004 was so we could see how it would hold up. It was supposed to have been a recommendation,” Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. “Why don’t we just say, ‘OK, this is it, three-eighths of an inch on all roads'?”

Tuesday night’s action came after the commissioners heard their Multi-Modal Road Users Advisory Board recommend using gravel chips no larger than a half-inch. The advisory board’s recommendation was in response to a double chip-and-seal on a section of Routt County Road 14 in the south valley this summer that used two layers of three-quarter-inch chips that many cyclists say are unsafe and unpleasant to ride.

About 36 members of the public attended the meeting to ask the county to revert to finer gravel when its paved roads are resurfaced.

“We really feel we should go back to three-eighths-inch chips,” Routt County Riders President Michael Loomis said. “It was used for a couple of years. It seemed like a very good solution on Routt County Road 36. It lasted six or seven years. Why wouldn’t we still be doing that?”

Carole Milligan pointed out to the commissioners that the shoulders are really the part of the roadway that matters most to cyclists. Often, because they don’t get the vehicular traffic that smooths out a fresh chip and seal, they are most difficult to ride on, she said.

“The edges on (C.R.) 14 in particular — there’s still a lot of loose material at the edge. You really have to ride in the traffic lane,” Milligan said. “In general, the county has not spent a lot of attention on the edge of the roads.”

Commissioner Doug Monger said he was unprepared when he encountered the latest chip-and-seal on C.R. 14.

“I was caught off guard myself by the three-quarter-inch stuff on Routt County Road 14,” Monger said. “I was pretty surprised by the aggregate size. I thought we’d put it away.”

Monger directed the Road and Bridge Department to investigate how it could pay more attention to rolling down the edges of freshly chip-and-sealed roads when it prepares its new policy resolution for final approval.

Avid cyclist Scott Schlapkohl pointed out to the commissioners that the Colorado Department of Transportation uses three-eighths-inch chips on all of Colorado’s highways, and Stahoviak picked up on it.

“I feel that Scott’s comment was really important,” she said. “CDOT uses three-eighths everywhere. Why the heck don’t we?”

Mitsch Bush said after a summer filled with cycling events, it is difficult to ignore the economic impact they provide after sales tax receipts were up in June, July and August.

“When people come here and get that positive first impression, they’re going to come back and continue to come back,” she said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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