Our view: A road to somewhere
April 11, 2017
Routt County officials are looking at vacating County Road 18C.
Before making a public road private, the county needs to do its due diligence and weigh the costs and benefits of public ownership.
Routt County is considering vacating County Road 18C, and that decision has sparked a public outcry from those who use the roadway. As of Monday, 187 people have signed a petition to keep open the road that crosses the Yampa River just south of Lake Catamount near Pleasant Valley.
According to Jack Trautman, who is the president of Routt County Riders and who is helping to lead the lobby against vacation of the county road, Routt County Planning Commission members were told by the Planning Department that the road gets very little public use, and Trautman and others who use the road are claiming otherwise.
Many of those who oppose the county's plan to vacate the road say they use the road often, as a popular out-and-back bike route starting in Steamboat and as a spot where birders go to catch glimpses of bald eagles hunting along the river. The Yampa Valley Land Trust, which holds a nearby access easement into the Catamount subdivision for the historic Rehder Ranch, is also opposing the road's privatization. "The public must not lose access to this location of high public value," wrote the Land Trust's Susan Dorsey.
And based on the number of people who are speaking out on the issue, we'd agree with Trautman's statement that C.R. 18C is not just a private driveway for Catamount and Green Creek Ranch residents — it's a public road that shouldn't be quietly vacated without more investigation and debate.
We also can understand why the county is considering vacating the remote road as a way to save money and resources, and with 849 miles of county roads to maintain, these are discussions that must take place.
According to Road and Bridge Director Janet Hruby, the cost to overlay and chipseal the 0.3-mile stretch of CR 18C is approximately $2,570 per year and the cost to replace the bridge over its 65-year life is $500,000 or $7,700 per year. Hruby also noted that the unpaved portion of the road will need to be improved if the county is to continue plowing the road.
In our estimation, the Planning Commission needs to closely weigh the cost of maintaining the road against its public use. To make a public road private, especially when that road provides the public with access to a bridge that overlooks the Yampa River, is not a decision that should be made lightly or without public input. Once the county gives up ownership of the road, it can't get it back.
Preserving public access to remote areas of Routt County and protecting open space is something our community values. In fact, the late Elaine Gay, who owned the property that is now known as the Green Creek Ranch and is at the end of C.R. 18C, was an advocate for land preservation and played a pivotal role in keeping as much land as possible open to the public.
We think there is a balance that can be found. The initial proposal was to vacate 18C east of the Yampa River, and we think that's a decision that's a bit of a no-brainer. It's when the proposal grew to include all of 18C that the issue became complicated, seeming to favor private landowners over the public's use of the road.
The Planning Commission will be meeting at 6 p.m. April 20 to discuss the future of C.R. 18C, and we encourage citizens to attend that meeting and engage in a public discussion on the issue. And we encourage members of the commission and other county officials to listen and weigh all factors before making their decision on the road's fate.