Volume 8, Number 51 - March 12, 2009
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Barger: Bumpy road to recovery
With spring-like weather melting six-foot-tall snowdrifts onto a sunken roadbed, traffic from one of the county’s largest subdivisions has turned the Barger roads into a treacherous mess of mud, holes, ruts and pools that would make a third-world country blush.
There’s no two ways around it; the Barger roads are in really bad shape.
But that’s not the ways it has always been.
According to High Meadow Ranch Property Owners Inc. (Barger Homeowners Association) President Tim Wells, the roads weren’t nearly as unruly when there were only 20 houses in the subdivision.
But after the gas boom, that number mushroomed to 200 houses and the extra traffic has taken a beating on the neighborhood’s two main roads: Meadowlark and Iroquois.
It’s been a bumpy road
In order to understand the problem, it’s critical to understand the lay of the land. From State Highway 191, Meadowlark Lane traverses one and a quarter miles through 10-acre lots before Iroquois diverges and proceeds to the top of a hill know humorously by many residents as “Mt. Barger.” It is at the top of Mt. Barger and just past the fork of the two roads where the majority of people live on one-acre lots.
In all, those two roads are about three miles long and they empty a majority of the subdivision’s traffic. And it is these two roads that have become the focus of much animosity and attention.
Between 1970 and 1974, Fey and Ann Barger subdivided their ranch to create the notorious neighborhood. At the time it was sparsely populated and the few landowners who lived there adequately maintained the roads.
Thirty-five years later, the gas boom sent housing prices skyrocketing. In Barger, land prices went from $1,400 an acre to $40,000 an acre. Even so, Barger was one of the only places young families could afford a home.
Unfortunately that equaled a tenfold traffic increase on woefully underdeveloped roads.
“We sat up there and counted over 50 vehicles an hour,” said Wells of a recent ad hoc study of the subdivision’s traffic. He estimates the roads sustain 500 vehicle-trips a day.
That volume is too much for both Meadowlark and Iroquois. The road is not crowned, meaning water pools creating a network of deep, road-wide potholes. In some places the road is below grade producing miniature lakes crisscrossed by deep muddy ruts.
“It’s going to get worse,” Wells said. “It’s horrible, but it’s frozen dirt and you just can’t do much with it.”
Instead, Wells said the road needs to thaw and the water must drain before anything can be done. Only after Mother Nature cooperates will the homeowners’ association be able to grade the road.
The challenges of late winter aren’t the only obstacles facing Barger residents.
During the depth of winter, the same trails often become a sheen of glassy ice. During summer, heavy traffic on the washboarded roads emits a cloud of dust that lingers along Highway 191.
Fixing the problem isn’t cheap or easy. The developers responsible for the subdivision did such a poor job they failed to keep the roads within their prescribed easements. Even the plats contain erroneously placed roads.
And both Meadowlark and Iroquois were so poorly planned before the county had stringent zoning regulations, the roads fail to achieve Sublette County road standards.
What’s more, the Barger roads were private which precluded, by state law, the county from spending money on them.
That, however, is changing with the adoption of the class II road system by the county commissioners more than two years ago.
Class II roads were created to upgrade “these old derelict roads that serve a lot of the public,” according to Commission Chair Bill Cramer. “We didn’t create the problem, but we are willing to help.”
Landowners must apply for the class II program. Then the road is surveyed and submitted to the class II roads committee. If approved, the county funds the road’s improvement.
In Barger, two roads are already in the class II road system: Meadowlark Lane from Highway 191 to Blair Road and Iroquois from Meadowlark to North Shoshone Trail.
The first 6,000 feet of Meadowlark section alone will cost the county $454,680.
“Some people are probably getting more money back than they’ve paid in taxes in a long, long time,” Cramer said of the homeowners who are benefiting from the class II road program.
Cramer has a philosophical and a practical approach to the problem. Practically, he advocates the class II road system as a way to put property-tax money back into people’s pockets. Philosophically he sites the “Code of the West” that says country dwellers shouldn’t expect city-quality infrastructure, especially when they purchase homes miles from a publicly maintained road.
Cramer said the subdivision’s poor infrastructure is partly responsible for its relatively low home prices.
He also rejects the idea that middle-class families have no choice but to buy a home in Barger, saying, “I don’t think anybody has been forced to move here against their will.”
And he has a stoic message for homeowners.
“The plain and simple terrible truth is you bought what you bought where you bought it; when it comes to money, you get what you pay for.”
Under class II, Meadowlark and Iroquois will be built a foot above grade, crowned and flanked with drainage ditches. The roads will also be treated with magnesium chloride to reduce washboard bumps and alleviate dust.
Because there are limited funds for all of the county’s class II upgrade projects, the homeowners’ association will be required to maintain the roads for the short term. Cramer indicated that maintenance and snow removal money would only be available after the upgrade projects are completed, saying, “We’ll get you out of the mud hole, but you may have to keep the road up yourselves for a while.”
He was unsure of the class II timetable, but he said the county will not prioritize one project over another.
“We’re not going to make you a really good road and leave your neighbor in a mud hole,” he said.
But Wells said when the Barger upgrades are complete he plans to apply for county maintenance money.
Aaron Seehafer of Rio Verde Engineering expects work to continue on Meadowlark when the frost comes out of the ground.
“Realistically, we are looking at the middle of May,” he said. “It’s all going to be weather-dependent.”
Additionally, Iroquois and the quarter-mile section of Meadowlark from Iroquois to Blair will be bid out this spring and constructed this summer.
Seehafer said the work is tentatively scheduled to be completed by fall.
Waiting for spring
Until warmer temperatures melt the snowdrifts and thaw the ground, Barger residents are relegated to the daily ritual of negotiating the subdivision’s increasingly brutal roads.
“Everybody’s getting through there right now,” Wells said. “It’s just slow going.”
By next winter though, the class II road improvements should make the mess on Meadowlark a thing of the past.
Said Wells, “If (the roadwork) was done, it would be 100 percent better right now.”
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