Mild winter means gentle learning curve for towns of Eagle, Gypsum maintaining US Highway 6
GYPSUM — When the towns of Eagle and Gypsum took over ownership and maintenance of U.S. Highway 6 through and between the two communities, officials hoped motorists wouldn’t notice any differences or, if they did, then they would be changes for the better.
This year’s mild winter has helped that goal in terms of snowplowing.
“It’s been a hard litmus test year to judge snowplowing,” said Ryan Murray, a Gypsum resident who owns Red Canyon Cafe in Eagle. Murray regularly drives Highway 6 during the early morning hours, so he is acutely aware of road conditions after big storms.
So far for the winter of 2017-18, Murray recalls only one challenging drive. On that occasion, temperatures took a quick dip and roads that were just wet suddenly turned to black ice. And, Murray noted, because temperatures have been so warm and snowfall so scare, there wasn’t a residual coating of magnesium chloride on the roadway.
Beyond that one occasion, Murray said he has no complaints with how the towns are doing its winter work.
“I see the trucks out early in the morning, and it seems like they are doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Murray said “I would say they are doing a good job.”
Last year, Eagle and Gypsum became the owners of Highway 6 through a process called devolution, which encompassed the seven miles of Highway 6 that extend from the Eby Creek Road roundabout in Eagle westward to the roundabout at the Interstate 70 interchange in Gypsum. When the two towns agreed to take ownership and maintenance of the road, the Colorado Department of Transportation paid them a flat fee of $12.1 million — the amount the state estimated it would spend maintaining the highway through the next 20 years. The towns split the money using a formula that delineated square feet of highway in the respective communities, bridge and culvert replacement needs and other factors. In the cost/responsibility split for the two towns, Gypsum received $10.5 million and took over 5.6 miles. Eagle received $1.6 million and took over 1.6 miles.
When they accepted the roadway, both communities inherited some challenges. Some of those issues relate to needed road repairs, while others relate to problem sections.
Eagle Public Works Director Bryon McGinnis pointed to the gypsum cliffs just west of Eagle, where the highway is perpetually shaded and where ice traditionally builds on the road, as an example.
“That section to the west is notoriously difficult. We will have to keep an eye on it,” he said.
Over at the town of Gypsum, town manger Jeff Shroll agreed that the mild winter to date has provided a gentle learning curve for plow drivers in both towns.
“There have been times when we learned the road didn’t need to be plowed, but it needed sanding,” Shroll said.
Shroll pointed to a particular Saturday in January for illustration. On that day, snow was falling but had only piled up less than an inch when a flash freeze hit. Motorists were unprepared for the sudden change in driving conditions.
“That’s a hard one to be prepared for, and it caused some pileups on Highway 6,” Shroll said.
As the winter has commenced, he said town crews are relying on reports from Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies to make plowing and sanding decisions.
“They have the ability to call us into action,” he said.
Shroll said Gypsum and Eagle crews are also communicating more than they did previously.
Eagle Public Works Supervisor Jerad Parker noted that the two towns rely on an on-call system to get the roads plowed.
“The challenge, for us, is to give the same level of service with on-call guys when CDOT had 24-hour coverage,” Parker said. “We rely on the cops to let us know when to go out.”
But he added that in Eagle, town crews were already accustomed to plowing a long stretch of the road.
“We have had to get from the Eby Creek Road roundabout to the Sylvan Lake Road roundabout, anyway,” Parker said.
All told, crews from both towns feel they’ve handled their new responsibilities to date.
“It’s been a light snow year so far, and we haven’t had any problems with it,” McGinnis said.
But even if conditions change, the towns will have to step up, he said.
“We own the road now, so we have to take care of it,” McGinnis said.