August 7, 2009

Park County expected to see big traffic rise

Danny Ramey
Intern

Traffic volumes on the major highways of Park County could increase anywhere from 35 percent to 100 percent by the year 2028, posing possible problems as maintenance and construction funds continue to dwindle.

According to projections from Colorado Department of Transportation Traffic Engineering earlier this year, many segments of U.S. 285, U.S. 24, and Colorado Highway 9 could see at least a 50 percent increase in annual average daily traffic (AADT) by 2028.

AADT is the measure of the total amount of traffic recorded on a particular segment of road during a year, divided by 365. That gives an idea of the average number of cars that travel on a segment on a given day.

The traffic counts for the AADT come from a tube-like instrument that is laid across the road. The tube then counts the number of cars that pass over it, said Bob Wilson, a spokesman for CDOT.

For some segments, such as the one on U.S. 285 that runs from the turnoff for County Road 43 in Bailey to the Jefferson County border, the AADT is expected to double by 2028.

For the South Park area, many segments of U.S. 285 are expected to see an increase in AADT of about 30 percent by 2028.

However, the segment of U.S. 285 that extends from a point just south of Fairplay northeast to Boreas Pass Road (County Road 33) is expected to see a 71 percent increase in AADT.

For Colorado Highway 9, CDOT expects to see AADT increases between 55 percent and 63 percent.

The biggest increase in AADT on Colorado Highway 9 should occur from the traffic light in Fairplay to the Summit County border at the top of Hoosier Pass.

Meanwhile, U.S. 24 should see a fairly consistent increase in AADT of about 50 percent for its Park County span.

Those increases appear to continue a trend that began in the early 1990s, said Wilson.

In 1996, the AADT for the portion of U.S. 285 south of Fairplay that starts just south of County Road 5 and ends just a little north of County Road 18 stood at 2,150.

In 2008 the AADT for that same span was 4,400, meaning that the traffic volume had more than doubled in 12 years.

Wilson attributed most of that increase to an expanding population in the county.

2009 traffic

So far this year, some officials agree that traffic counts are up for both Park County and the state of Colorado, although official counts won't be available until the end of the year.

Park County Commissioner Dick Hodges and Park County Road and Bridge Department Director David Kintz said that both recreational and local traffic are up on Park County roads this year.

"Some days there's more recreational traffic than local traffic on county roads," said Kintz.

For example, County Roads 90 and 92, which provide access to Spinney Mountain and Eleven Mile state parks, see about 750,000 cars yearly, with most of that traffic coming for recreational purposes.

The busiest county road in Park County, though, is County Road 43, which sees an average of 6,000 cars per day, said Kintz.

Both Hodges and Kintz believe that the traffic in Park County will continue to grow in the coming years due to recreational and development opportunities.

However, Kintz believes that the South Park area will see more of an increase than the Bailey area.

He expects the Bailey area to see a minimal boost because it has been "built out," but he expects a big increase in the South Park area because there are a lot of development and recreational opportunities in that area.

Road concerns

The increased amounts of traffic on Park County roads pose a possible problem for road maintenance and construction.

"Increased traffic could lead to lots of additional deterioration costs," said Kintz.

Park County and many counties across the state are already facing tight road budgets as funds dwindle.

The main source of funding for roads in the state comes from the Highway Users Tax Fund, a fund created by state statute in 1953 that gets most of its money from a flat tax of 22 cents per gallon on gasoline.

The money is distributed back to the counties from the state, which uses a formula that takes into account the number of miles of road that each county has.

Park County has 1,658 miles of road in a 200-square mile area, said Kintz.

According to a presentation by Hodges at a Platte Canyon Area Chamber of Commerce meeting in July, the Road and Bridge Department gets 88 percent of its yearly revenue of $4.4 million from highway user taxes. Only 4 percent of Road and Bridge revenue comes from property taxes, and only 2 percent from license plate registration.

Recently, because of people looking for more fuel-efficient vehicles and ways to cut down on driving, the HUTF has begun to see its funds diminish.

"It's a flat tax," said Tony DeVito, the Director for CDOT Region 1, which covers Park County.

Because of that, the tax does not increase at all when the price of gas goes up.

That decrease in funds has prevented the HUTF from keeping pace with inflation and rising road construction costs.

With HUTF suffering losses in funds, areas all over the state are seeing budgets tighten.

In 2007 and 2008, CDOT Region 1, which stretches from the Kansas border to the top of Vail Pass, but excludes the Denver Metro area, ran a resurfacing budget of about $22 million.

In 2009, that budget was cut to $11.4 million, said DeVito.

The projected budget for CDOT Region 1 in 2010 is around $13.4 million.

The state as a whole also saw a huge decrease in its resurfacing budget over the past year.

In 2007 and 2008, the state resurfacing budget was around $160 million, but it was cut down to $81 million in 2009.

The state resurfacing budget for 2010 is projected to be about $93 million, said DeVito.

Because of those decreases in funds, Park County has had to limit road work to maintenance and repair projects and put off projects that could help increase flow, said Park County Commissioner Mark Dowaliby.

"We need to be able to commute, and the people on vacation need to make it to where they're going," he said.

Park County does receive some road funds from other places, but not enough to cover the rising costs, said Kintz.

For instance, County Road 102 in southeastern Park County is eligible to receive funds from the Gaming Impact Grant to help compensate for increased gaming traffic to Cripple Creek, said Kintz.

One hope that the county has of raising some new funds for roads comes from the new FASTER tax, which was recently passed in Colorado.

The tax increases fees on a range of vehicles to help increase the amount of funds going to the state's road systems.

"We're hoping some of the HUTF losses will be supplemented by the new FASTER tax," said Hodges.

The county also applied to receive $1.5 million for new equipment from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. It did not receive the money.

"But we tried," said Hodges.

The county will apply for the money again next year in the hopes it might receive it because it now has some projects in progress.

In addition to limiting the work that can be done on county roads, the decrease in funds has also led to a reduction in machinery and crews.

Eventually, Hodges would like to look at getting some new machinery for the county. The county's current machinery is fairly old, but there's not much of a budget for replacing it right now.

"The budget's tight," said Kintz.

Park County Road and Bridge has been working on repairing several roads in the county lately.

Those include County Roads 3, 5, and 20, Coil Drive and Silverheels Road in the South Park area; and County Roads 43 and 68, Rosalie, Sleepy Hollow, Bulldogger, and Buggy Whip roads in the Bailey area.

Additionally, there is also work being done at the intersection of Lionshead and Dawson roads, Woodside Drive, the intersection of Woodside and Dawson, the intersection of Victoria and Dawson, Nova Road, Mt. Evans Boulevard, and Spring Road in Pine Junction.

For many of those roads, the main work is putting down chip seal to repair and maintain the roads for another couple of years, said Kintz.

He said that he is asked by a lot of people why the county uses chip seal instead of asphalt for the roads.

While asphalt lasts longer than the chip seal, the seal costs about a quarter less than asphalt, making it a much less expensive choice.

"Chip seal has a shorter life, but on back county roads it can last a long time," said Kintz.

Although all the roads that have chip seal on them in Park County could use some maintenance, the tight budget allows the county to only repair the most dangerous and most used roads in Park County.

Each year, Kintz presents the Board of County Commissioners with a list of roads that need maintenance.

To determine which roads need the most help, he looks at the traffic count, visibility, safety, and road conditions of each road in the county.

The roads that need the most help receive the most funding.

At the July chamber meeting, Hodges emphasized that the county is putting more effort into counting the traffic on roads and toward developing a five-year plan to provide long-term direction to the county's road efforts.

While not all roads receive work during a year, each road is looked at, he later told The Flume.

"We're going to do our best to do prevention and repair to the best of our assets," Hodges said.

 

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