Snowy roads keep County Road and Bridge crews busy meeting challenges

The Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge Department has quite a task each winter keeping county roads open for traffic or, in the case above, opening certain roads in the spring. Above, a county snow plow has more than 10 feet on each side of it as it plows its way to an open Ripple Creek Pass, located at the top of County Road 8, east of Meeker by about 50 miles.
The Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge Department has quite a task each winter keeping county roads open for traffic or, in the case above, opening certain roads in the spring. Above, a county snow plow has more than 10 feet on each side of it as it plows its way to an open Ripple Creek Pass, located at the top of County Road 8, east of Meeker by about 50 miles.
RBC I It keeps snowing and snowing. Some storms drop just a skiff of snow while others produce several inches of the powder. This winter, it depends on where in Rio Blanco County one is standing.

But it doesn’t matter much to the Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge Department, which is in charge of keeping 272 miles of county road plowed when the snow falls, and this winter has already taken on a unique look, said Dave Morlan, director of the department.
“Usually, you can print out a pattern with some good early storms, medium storms during the winter and maybe a big storm or two in the spring,” he said. “You can also bet that the Meeker district will have deeper snows, but that really hasn’t been the case this year.
“We have had big storms and little storms and they have fallen all over the place,” Morlan said. “And normally, we have the heavier storms on the Meeker side of the county, but Rangely is keeping up this year.
“The storms have dropped unusual amounts all over the county and it is really tough to see the normal patterns this year,” he said. “Perhaps I could say that the bigger storms have fallen in the north part of the county.”
Morlan said his crews were kept busy over the Christmas and New Year’s weekends as snow fell almost every day.
“We weren’t defeated over the holidays but we were kept busier than heck,” Morlan said. “We had lots of work those two weeks, and we really need to thank the people for understanding what we were going through.
“I feel bad we didn’t get to a few folks as fast as we would like to have,” he said. “But the folks around the county were great in understanding the problems of snow every day. We even had several folks thank us for our efforts.
“We had some overtime then, but we were starting early and we kept going until we were down,” Morlan said.
The Road and Bridge Department must keep 448 miles of county road clean in the winter, utilizing eight snow plow routes; five are in the Meeker district and cover 144 miles while three routes are in the Rangely district and cover 33 miles.
The department also has nine grader routes in the county—six on the Meeker side of the county covering 143 miles and three on the Rangely side of the county, covering 128 miles.
Morlan said he feels good when the department gets out and gets the job done, causing the least amount of delay and inconvenience.
“Schools are our first priority, so our focus is to make certain first that school buses can get through,” he said. “If we can get those buses through on time, that makes us feel pretty good, and what makes for a great day is when we can get the buses through quickly and get around to the county roads and get them plowed and graded soon as we can.”
Morlan added that the biggest disappointment or negative part of the winter road cleanups (and some other times as well) come when the public complains about the lack of work the county department is doing when the work they are complaining about isn’t on county roads.
“It can be really frustrating at times because when people are upset, they say things they would never say otherwise—particularly over the phone,” Morlan said. “Already this year we have caught a lot of flack that wasn’t deserved because people don’t know the difference between a town road, a county highway and state highway.
“I got a pretty good chewing because someone inside the Meeker town limits wanted to know why we hadn’t plowed her city street,” he said. “I had to explain to her that the the county doesn’t plow city streets; that’s up to the city.
“I have also taken quite a few shots from folks who want to know why the city doesn’t do Market Street in town, and I have to explain to them that Market Street is Highway 13, which is a state highway; not maintained by the county.”
State Highway 13 is a 24/7 maintenance road for the state, which means the state is in charge of keeping that road open at all times, Morlan explained. Highway 64 is also a state highway but is not considered important enough for 24/7 maintenance, and the state does not plow the road between Rangely and Meeker at night.
“I think it has enough traffic to justify 24/7 plowing, but I’m not the person who the state asks, and I am not the person who makes that decision,” he said.
Morlan said his department also received a bad rap regarding the work on Highway 13, about mile marker 29 this past summer, when the sides of the highway collapsed, shutting the highway down to one land and a flagger for most of the summer and fall.
“Highway 13 is a state road, and we had absolutely nothing to do with that highway or its repairs,” Morlan said. “People also wanted to know why Rio Blanco County was paying for that long stretched-out period that it took to fix it. Well the reality is that Rio Blanco County didn’t pay for those repairs and the work down south. The state did.”
With the National Weather Service reporting that the El Nino will hit its Colorado peak from mid-January through March, Morlan said the department is fully prepared for a possible onslaught of more winter storm.
“We have had overtime and we have used a lot of sand,” Morlan said. “We make our own sand, so there is no problem there, and I can’t see any circumstances under which the three county commissioners would make us cut back on overtime as far as highway maintenance is concerned.”
Morlan said the department has never gone over its budget and that the commissioners have been very good about seeing that the department has the funding and the materials it needs to do the job.
“I expect and am planning for a lot of snow during the remainder of the winter,” Morlan said. “We are up to the job, we will have the equipment and the funding and I expect we will be able to meet our goal of providing safe county roads to our residents.
“It may get hectic if we have lots of heavy snows through the end of March,” he said. “But we’re up to the task and we’ll make certain it happens.”
During the summer, when snow is not a factor, the Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge Department oversees a total of 930.87 miles of road; 175.64 of those miles are paved and 755.23 miles are gravel and dirt.
“With road maintenance, sometimes having to replace culverts and do bridge repairs, we stay pretty busy,” Morlan said. “We take our task of keeping the roads in good condition for the school buses and residents very seriously.
“The workers know what is expected of them—and it may be worse in the winter—but we are up to the challenge and I am really happy with the crews I have,” he said. “They know we are serious about what we do.”