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Road and Bridges: Lifelines for Work, Health, School & Fun

Updated: Jul 25

April 17, 2020

I am writing this blog during the stay-at- home orders due to COVID-19. I’m using this time as a chance to delve deeper into issues impacting residents' quality of life.


Building, repairing and taking care of roads is a fundamental, required role for County Government. We have 653 miles of county roads, 222 miles are paved and 431 gravel. This system is the County's biggest asset. These thoroughfares are lifelines to work, recreation, farm/ranch or oil gas operations, and business travel. School buses use the roads to get kids to schools and EMS vehicles use them during emergencies. Many tourists use our roads to get to places like Vallecito Lake or to USFS Public Lands.


A quality, safe road system is essential for quality of life.


Working through four (4) road districts that operate under the Road and Bridge Department and located in Marvel, Durango, Ignacio and Bayfield, crews do grading, maintenance, minor & major repairing and/or new construction. They also do base overlays such as chip-seal, paving or graveling. Snow plowing, dust abatement, signage and striping are done depending on the time of year.


Fun fact: did you know that roads numbered “1” start in the far western part of the county and go up to “5” east of Bayfield? See the map below for a guide.





My personal goal is to drive each one of these!

So how good or bad are our county roads? I have learned the answer is, as the saying goes: “...in the eye of the beholder.” For some folks, living on a less-than-desirable road is just fine. Some people have even told me that bad roads mean people slow down or the poor road quality prevents rural sprawl. In other instances, a pot hole or lack of timely maintenance during a snow storm can cause a flurry of emails and phone calls to County officials.


Aside from opinion, here is a 2017 technical study that shows how are the roads are faring. http://lpccds.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_1323669/File/2017%20Pavement%20Condition%20Index.pdf At the time this study was done, which notably was 3 years ago, the majority of roads were in the "good" or "very good" categories. A new assessment would give us a clearer picture of today's status.

New as of 7/12/20: In this same technical report for 2017, the Pavement Condition Report points out that the County's recent investments in capital projects has been declining and that our percent of roads considered “excellent” is about half the national average.

Currently our network average PCI (Pavement Condition Index) is 66 based on the 2017 report, but having less than half the national average of roads “excellent” or better is an indication we have not been investing in our roads at a level necessary to maintain the current rating.

Staff at the Road and Bridge Department do a detailed inventory of needs each year and prioritize new and ongoing projects. This list goes to the County Commissioners for consideration in the budget. The County's Road and Bridge Fund is separated from other funds by law and thus, the fund cannot be added to or "borrowed from" for other uses. Primary sources of revenues for this fund are property and sales taxes; highway user taxes (HUTA); PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes); intergovernmental agreements; and capital grants. The main costs are personnel, equipment and materials.

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According to the County's Long Term Finance Committee, there is a shortfall in the Road and Bridge Fund. With the impacts of COVID-19 on the county's budget being unknown at this time, we will have to carefully prioritize budget resources in the future. That said, the need is about $6,000,000/year. Keeping up is very important because the longer a segment of road deteriorates, the more costly it is to fix. Bridge deficiencies cause obvious safety issues.


New: 7/12/20: Also, this year in 2020, the Commissioner may take up the issue of road impact fees. The topic was pulled from their agenda due to COVID-19. I am in support of road impact fees if they are structured in a logical, effective and equitable way.

I have relevant experience and leadership on this topic. In 2016, I worked alongside a team of dedicated volunteers on the campaign asking La Plata County voters for a property tax increase for Roads and Bridges. This was after our County appointed Fiscal Needs Committee determined funds were needed. We did as much education as we could but voters didn’t say yes. This experience shows that any future questions have to be more carefully discussed with county residents and it also showed me that most people were generally satisfied with their roads.


In closing, on the campaign trail, I hear about a lot of issues and concerns but I always hear a big HIGH FIVE for the County's road and bridge crews.


Safe travels, and good wishes for safety and wellness during this time.

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Marsha Porter-Norton

Democrat for La Plata County Commissioner


Proven leadership for healthy communities and a strong economy


Engage, Donate and Volunteer here: www.marshaporternorton.com

Contact me here: marshaporternorton@gmail.com or 970-403-5680

Facebook: Marsha for Commissioner@MPNfortheWIN

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Registered Agent, Marsha Porter-Norton.
P.O. Box 4506 Durango, CO 81302