CDOT seeks $45 million for plowing, road repair amid tough winter

Colorado transportation leaders are poised Thursday to set aside $25 million for emergency road repairs and repaving on mountain highways torn up by one of the heaviest winter snowfall seasons on record.

That request for road-repair money from the Colorado Department of Transportation — which will target trouble spots on U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass and other routes — comes as it also asks for $19.6 million to plug its strained snow-plowing budget. And there’s still several weeks left before the winter storm season typically ends in the high country.

“As of March 31, this is the fifth … most potent winter we’ve had in the last 50 years,” John Lorme, CDOT’s director of maintenance and operations, said Wednesday afternoon during a presentation to the Colorado Transportation Commission.

Continuing snowfall since then could nudge this winter season to the fourth- or third-heaviest in that time frame in terms of statewide snowpack, he said.

Commission members, who have heard an earful from drivers about bumpy roads this winter, signaled they’ll likely support the requests when they vote on a budget amendment Thursday morning. To cover the requests, the commission would tap nearly $45 million from its own program reserve fund, which is intended in part for unanticipated expenses during the year.

The heavy storms have depleted CDOT’s $84 million snow- and ice-removal budget, and CDOT also has blown through a $12 million maintenance reserve fund for plowing. Lorme said inflationary increases in operating expenses for CDOT’s truck fleet also have played a role by driving per-mile plow costs slightly higher in the last year.

The nearly $20 million in extra money will cover what CDOT has spent to keep plows running in the last month or so by shifting money in its budget. It’s also expected to cover the season’s remaining storms, Lorme said.

State highways have taken a beating from this winter’s recurring freeze-thaw cycles as well as the impact on pavement of the chains required on heavy trucks’ tires when the state’s traction law has been activated.

It’s worse than the usual winter wear and tear, CDOT leaders say.

Crews have been dispatched to patch potholes using a temporary “cold mix” treatment, including on U.S. 40, but permanent fixes will be needed. Officials say the normal summer maintenance budget won’t be able to cover all the extra needs this year.

“We’re talking about, in many locations, more significant work where we’re talking pavement reconstruction and rehabilitation — not just simple pothole repair,” said Jeff Sudmeier, CDOT’s chief financial officer, during the commission presentation.

While snow is still falling in some areas, a quick melt-off elsewhere has caused flooding, damaging other roads. That includes U.S. 151 in southwestern Colorado.

Sudmeier said CDOT was still compiling a full list of emergency repairs, with $25 million used as a ballpark estimate. He said he planned to detail CDOT’s spending of the money for the commission in coming months.

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