Driving Myers Road in southern El Paso County can feel like something out of a Dukes of Hazzard episode, according to Maria Jindra. Stretches of washboard can send cars and buses spinning. The dust can be so bad that UPS drivers make deliveries wearing masks.
Jindra, for one, says it's time rural residents including she and others on Myers get their due. And she's doing her best as a member of the county's Highway Advisory Commission to make it happen.
"We're tired of being looked at like we're all wearing overalls and strumming the banjo," Jindra said after a county commission meeting Monday. Wearing a fake fur coat proudly purchased at Sears, she added, "We can't keep the cowboy mindset much longer."
Paving the county's 1,100 miles of gravel roads would be a challenge, given tight funding and backlog of projects. But Jindra's argument for paving Myers, specifically, has shown surprising resilience in the face of those hard economic realities.
At a February meeting, advisory commission members voted 6-2 in favor of a list of 2008 paving projects, to be funded with Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority maintenance money. That list omitted Myers. (Jindra was one of the two who voted against the list.)
Yet on April 7, county commissioners who must approve the advisory commission's recommendations were offered two resurfacing options: the approved list and a revised one, requested by county administration, on which Myers took the place of three paved county roads with pothole problems.
Commissioner Amy Lathen championed Myers as an east-west corridor with an importance out of proportion to its light traffic. Myers has been measured to carry fewer than 200 total vehicles a day, or about eight per hour.
Commissioner Wayne Williams said the county has busier gravel roads that other residents would like to see paved. If one road is to be added to the list, he argued, all should be considered, "not just ones that Highway Advisory Board members live on."
Commissioners ultimately voted only to approve the top of the list, delaying more discussion about Myers Road until after an April 17 work session.
Never done before
Jindra, 52, and her family own about 1,100 acres along the 13 unpaved miles of Myers, southeast of Fountain. A company leases 290 of those acres to dig out sand for water-filtration systems, though Jindra insists the operation's trucks are only permitted to travel on Squirrel Creek Road, also unpaved.
She says she picked Myers as the focal point of her efforts only because she knows it so well from long years commuting to Fort Carson, where she worked as an X-ray technician.
"I'm just trying to bring awareness to the situation," she says. "Sometimes you have to amplify the message."
John McCarty, director of the county Department of Transportation, says he's seen commissioners allocate county money to pave only two gravel roads in 12 years, both last year after receiving special requests from the road and bridge fund.
The balance for that fund took some big hits later in the year. To balance the 2007 books, county commissioners transferred nearly $1.5 million from the transportation fund to cover administrative costs tied to the DOT. County finance director Nicola Sapp says in 2008, the department lost another $600,000 intended for re-graveling rural roads.
The department keeps a long list of drainage projects, bridge repairs and road improvements waiting for extra funds, but the paving list is different. The county gets about $6 million yearly from the PPRTA sales tax for maintenance. Since the PPRTA tax passed in 2004, McCarty says, the county has not used those maintenance funds to pave any gravel roads.
Speaking to commissioners earlier this week, McCarty said the idea of using the funds that way is actually a larger policy question.
The paving list approved by the Highway Advisory Commission shows 28 roads, and the county commissioners have approved work on the first 18.
The last 10 roads are rated by cost effectiveness. The alternative list deletes stretches of Arrowwood Drive and Herring and Eastonville roads, and replaces them with Myers, a project for which the first two miles would cost $260,000.
Commissioners on Monday discussed whether a cheaper surface could reduce this cost or allow paving of more of the road. Williams asked if Myers' light traffic justifies the expense. More than 50 other gravel roads in the county see up to 1,510 car trips per day; Myers measured only 197. If the process is to include gravel roads, Williams said, it should not simply benefit a few property owners.
"You paid for the road when you paid for the property," he said.
Jindra contended that trucks and commuters use Myers, making conditions intolerable for her and other residents. In 30 years living there, she said, it and other rural parts of the county have become like expanded parts of the city. They should be treated as such, she added.
"I've been raising lots of hell we're not hillbillies out there."