Rough winter takes a toll on BV road crew, budget

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Buena Vista County Engineer's Office is beginning to recover from a long winters' struggle with mother nature after an increase in wind and ice has caused the department to log over 55-60 hours per week on county roads for the last four months.

Jon Ites, County Engineer, said that his crew "is tired" and is looking forward to the end of the winter season after holding the responsibility of managing 1,000 miles of road throughout the county system - 750 of those miles in gravel.

"There was a lot more ice and wind this winter than we are use to while snow accumulation was on average", Ites said. "Over the winter, there were two-week periods where employees in the department worked, on average, between 112-115 hours. That can be attributed to the wind and ice conditions."

Ites, who has been the County Engineer since June 1994, said that the department's eight trucks and mechanics have been pushing hard all year as well in order to maintain its force.

The budget for snow operations was $270,000 - for labor, and materials such as salt, sand, and calcium chloride. A total departmental budget of $4.08 million for next fiscal year has been proposed or nearly 25% of the county budget.

Ites said it takes all eight departmental trucks to ensure that the entire stretch of the paved county road system is plowed in about 3 1/2 hours, for a one-time pass. Unpaved roads, at times, have been left alone, because of the icing conditions including after it has snowed.

"From a safety point of view, it made no sense," he said - ice has been so thick that leaving snow on it gave some traction.

He said that the department has needed to push hard because the snow policy for the area is from 5 AM to 5 PM and added that the road system is dealing with "wear and tear" due to truck traffic and weather.

"M27, M36, M50, C29, and C25 are all county roads that could use improvement. If it takes $150 to $170 an hour to improve our roads that translates to $2 million in cost to repair. Cost will lead a process for improvements to take time."

He added that at that rate, "It could be my 8-year plan." During his meeting with the Board of Supervisors he said that it might be possible to increase weight limits as a possible source of potential revenue through registration fees.

"The issue of paying for the roads should be seen as a user fee that can be applied," Ites said.

He added that they have also experimented in utilizing "living snow fences" that are 4-5 feet high from the south and east to limit drifting.

As the season changes, the will continue to look at replacing rail crossings. Officials hope to complete two new crossings at county roads M27, west of Alta and about 1/2 a mile from Highway 7 as well as one on county road M50 and 1 1/2 mile north of Highway 7 near Sulphur Springs.

Each project will cost about $80,000, with improved signal warnings. Federal programs pick up 90 percent of the cost.

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