Commissioners not interested in extending county’s winter road maintenance

Prioritizing growth in urban centers minimizes need to extend plowing to outlying Routt County roads

Winter Maintenance on Routt County Road 16 ends just before the road crosses over Morrison Creek, stopping short of several residents farther down the road.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Road 16 meanders through the Morrison Creek Valley south of Stagecoach Reservoir, eventually going up over Lynx Pass, near where the Muddy Slide fire burned last summer.

Just before the gravel road bridges across Morrison Creek is a turnoff marking the end of the line for county snowplows. A nearby sign reads: “End of county winter maintenance.”

The Lynx Pass section of County Road 16 is one of the several roads commissioners say residents often mention when asking to extend winter maintenance. Routt County Public Works Director Mike Mordi said his office is seeing increased plowing requests, especially after December’s storms.

“People that have moved farther and farther out in the county are requesting more and more plow maintenance services,” Mordi told the Routt County Board of Commissioners last week. “Just another mile here, a half mile there or to take over spots where people are already plowing.”

Mordi said people who live near Lynx Pass often plow sections of County Road 16, but he still gets frequent requests for the county to plow it into Routt National Forest. Requests across the county have generally increased, Mordi said, potentially because more people are living in second homes due to the pandemic.

Overall, the county plows about 650 miles of roads, as compared to the city of Steamboat Springs, which plows about 70 miles.

There is no hard and fast rule about what justifies a road getting plowed over the winter. However, Mordi said plow routes are often planned around bus routes or areas where several citizens need to reach them to get home. The width and condition of the road are also factors, he added.

“Our plows stop because the road changes in that area — that definitely turns into a forest road and gets narrower,” Mordi said. “When the snowpack starts coming out and really starts to melt, we’ll do significant damage to that road.”

The county uses various devices to measure traffic, but none are useful over the winter, so it is hard to know how exactly much use some of these roads get. Still, Mordi suspected it’s less than the summer months when people use outlying roads to recreate.

Generally, commissioners said they weren’t interested in making significant changes to the county’s winter maintenance plan, as it could lead to cost increases. Mordi said, right now, the county plows in one shift with routes that take nine to 12 hours, and adding onto those routes could require splitting it into multiple shifts.

However, Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said she felt the conversation spoke to several things currently in the county’s master plan that are being discussed as county officials work to create a new one.

“This issue reinforces the Routt County policy of concentrating residential development rather than facilitating this kind of sprawl into subdivisions,” Melton said.

Coming up with a policy about what would merit a road being plowed in the winter could eventually be considered in the master planning process. This could be important, as areas like Stagecoach are identified for residential growth.

While the county plows some roads in subdivisions south of Stagecoach Reservoir, Chris Simao, vice president of the Stagecoach Property Owners Association, said many property owners either plow themselves or coordinate to have their streets cleared.

He is part of a group working to identify roads that they would eventually upgrade and negotiate with the county about extending winter maintenance.

“It’s going to be a work in progress,” Simao said. “The development in that area is going to be forthcoming, so we use that (growth) as our guidance.”

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