From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 48 - November 27, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County roads costly

by Jonathan Van Dyke

Simply put, keeping up the roads of Sublette County is becoming expensive.

When various county and energy officials met with the governor two weeks ago, the county proposed a laundry list of potential road projects (some projected up to 10 years in advance) that could require above $50 million of funding.

“You can’t pick a road in this county that isn’t getting more traffic,” said Butch Penton, superintendent of county road and bridge.

The two largest projects projected by the county could be large-scale jobs on Calpet ($36 million for 24 miles) and Dry Piney ($12 million for eight miles) roads — two roads that service much of the industrial activity near the energy fields.

“Some of our busiest oil patch roads are Calpet and Dry Piney,” Penton said. “[Dry Piney] would be a better road for truck traffic than Calpet.”

According to a county road and bridge count conducted in July of this year, Calpet sees about 591 vehicles a day, with cars and pickups only accounting for 48.9 percent of that traffic.

“Calpet is one of the oldest roads in the county and with all the truck traffic they’re killing cows pretty regularly,” Penton said.

More fencing may be required and also a complete paving/re-paving of the road, if those traffic models continue.

“It needs a lot of shoulder work,” Penton said. “A lot of our slopes aren’t three to one. If people would drive to the road conditions, [it might be safer], but they don’t. They’re driving too fast for the road conditions.”

Paradise Road sees even more traffic, at about 1,500 vehicles a day. Recently, the county was able to pave part of that road, but the county could choose to finish its entirety in the future.

“They upgraded the end that’s getting the most use,” said Pat McGuire, with road and bridge.

These roads are certainly not the only ones that will need work and that continue to see more traffic. Road and bridge only wants about 400 vehicles a day or less traveling on any unpaved road. Anything more, and that road would more than likely need paving, McGuire said.

Thus the burden falls on the county government.

Because the usage on many of these roads is directly correlated to energy development impacts, the commissioners have been lobbying the state for more impact mitigation money.

“I think it’s fair to say if it wasn’t for industry it wouldn’t be an issue as to whether to pave or not to pave [these roads],” Commissioner Joel Bousman said. “If it wasn’t for industry we wouldn’t be doing it.”

“It’s pretty easy to see that the reason for the impact to the roads is heavy truck traffic. And once you get to a certain point with heavy truck traffic, our road and bridge department, even with 24 hour a day maintenance, cannot keep up.”

For the time being, however, the county doesn’t wish to act brashly in response — at least until more information on future impacts is culled.

“I don’t necessarily see anyone committing one way or another,” Commissioner John Linn said. “The county is committed to taking care of the roads, regardless of what happens and how industry responds to us needing more money for roads that are impacted by industry.”

A holdup remains in the sharing of information between the county and energy industry. Those roads could very well see a dramatic drop in traffic, especially after the latest release of Record of Decision (ROD) which could increase piping, condensate and water to water treatment plants, Bousman said.

“What we’re lacking is the information and documentation [on these future changes],” he added.

Aside from new transportation piping, industry companies have been looking at various other ways to reduce traffic.

“We’re moving a workforce facility over in Big Piney into the Jonah Field,” said Randy Teeuwen, community relations advisor

for EnCana. “That’s a very direct way to eliminate or reduce traffic in Jonah.”

He added that the move will shed approximately 200-250 people off the roads daily, who would instead be living in the workforce facility on longer rotating shifts.

“We will be eliminating that amount of traffic from Big Piney to the Jonah Field everyday,” Teeuwen said. “For us, it provides a lot of safety benefits, as well.”

More projected, traffic-type estimations could help greatly for the county’s lobbying efforts, as officials attempt to ply the state legislature to release more federal mineral royalty money.

“Roads consume a big part of our budget,” Linn said. “We don’t do a lot of other things because we do put a lot of money into the roads.”

Figuring out future traffic studies may also have great impact on the accountability of industry.

“If industry were to contribute to road impacts or maybe even just helping us build these roads that are necessary for industry and their benefit, we could do other things with the money,” Linn said.

Bousman also noted a possible goal that is far from completion.

“If we could get to the point where we have an actual loop around Pinedale, that would help out a lot on the traffic going through town as well,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but that’s been a goal, to make that happen.”

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