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Poor condition of Pony Butte Road leads to problems for Ashwood School District

PMG PHOTO KIVA HANSON - Pony Butte Road is the main access point for Ashwood, and its in poor conditionTravelling on Pony Butte Road from U.S. Highway 97 to Ashwood is scenic. It travels through high desert canyons and over rolling ranchlands.

The road itself, though, is much less appealing.

Riddled with potholes and patched asphalt, the road has been neglected for the past decade or so, and it's taken a toll.

The 15-mile-long road connecting the town of Ashwood with Highway 97 was built in the late 1950s and serves as the main, and only paved, route into and from Ashwood.

Over the last decade or so, the road has been under what is called deferred maintenance, meaning large maintenance projects aren't happening, but rather smaller projects like filling potholes. This happens because of the roads condition, as well as the low daily traffic average.

"If the worst road is a one, and the best is 100, this road is about a 28," said Jefferson County Public Works director Matt Powlison. "What happens with these kinds of roads is they need structural overlay, and a chip and seal won't work."

The road's condition has been deteriorating greatly, and it's started to affect the residents of Ashwood.

"The road is so bad it's become dangerous. It has cost the school district so much in staff and maintenance on the vehicles," said Ashwood School District clerk Lynnsay Jacobs.

The Ashwood School District currently has nine students, and the school bus travels that road daily, not just to bring students to school, but to bring older students to Culver High, where they attend school.

Jacobs spoke about the roads at the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners meeting March 25, urging them to work towards fixing the road.

PMG PHOTO KIVA HANSON - Pony Butte Road int askwood has had many pothole patches over the years, but needs a complete overhaulThe roads condition has impacted the school significantly and has been one of the major causes for multiple staff members to leave. They've had many teachers and support staff resign, citing the danger and condition of the road.

Aside from staff retention, the road's poor condition has also affected their budget. They've had increased maintenance costs on the school bus due to the significant wear the road puts on vehicles. The bus even broke down due to wear, and had costly repairs, a big expense for a small school district.

Jefferson County Public Works is well aware of the problems the road presents. They hope to begin a structural overlay project to fix the road in the next year or two.

"This road project is not in the traditional five-year plan, because of the poor condition. Its condition is so poor that it changes the type of project," said Powlison. "The cost skyrockets when we have to do a structural overly."

A structural overlay is a full re-paving of the road, making it a much more expensive project. Powlison estimated repaving a road of this size would cost between $1.5 and 2 million. The project is in the works, but due to high asphalt prices, it's still a few years away.

"We will continue to make stop-gap fixes, like filling potholes, to keep it in drivable condition," said Powlison. "A nice, new paved surface is at least a year or two out."

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