New Castle residents are demanding improvement to the most dangerous road in Garfield County
Rural resident Spencer Thomas describes this road as the most dangerous of its kind in Garfield County. His neighbors agree, and now they’re demanding major improvements.
On Wednesday, Garfield County Commissioners and Sheriff Lou Valario met with area residents, town leaders and U.S. Forest Service representatives at the New Castle Community Center. There, a forum of nearly 50 people addressed potential short- and long-term goals for County Road 245.
CR 245—known as Buford Road—runs northwest of New Castle. It is a popular route to the Flat Tops area and attracts many off-roaders, campers, snowmobilers and more each year.
The West Elk Buford Residents Association, which Thomas represents, is requesting upgrades to help alleviate several recurring safety and wellness issues on the road.
Association members say increases in traffic, nearby logging operations, etc., have deteriorated the road’s condition. Members say there is also a lack of traffic enforcement on Buford Road.
The association also pointed to unsafe road conditions that led to a fatal accident in August 2022.
“I am angry that these conditions are allowed to exist and continue — and what is even more disturbing is that they continue to be ignored,” Buford Street resident Monica Shively said. “I would like the county to take responsibility for this negligence. I implore you to consider improving (the road) for future generations.”
Rural Newcastle residents on Wednesday were also loaded with anecdotal close calls they personally experienced on Buford Road. This included close calls with unruly visitors brandishing pistols, reckless driving, undiluted washboards and laundry, and high amounts of dust.
Newcastle resident Jane Murphy said: “Reckless/careless drivers have pulled[the motorists]off the road beside the ditch in several locations, and they’ve seen a lot of accidents where vehicles are off the road hanging in the trees.” who frequented Buford Road.
“The absence of effective control of road dust causes safety and health risks for residents and users.”
History shows that CR 245, which first opened in 1931, has not been improved since the 1980s, and commissioners argued Wednesday that the county does not have enough oversight on Buford Road to enforce traffic rules or initiate any major projects.
Instead, according to Superintendent of Roads and Bridges Wyatt Kesbury, Garfield County is only required to surface excavate the 18.6 miles from Buford Road to the Rio Blanco County border once a year. This was stipulated by a road agreement between the county and the Forest Service in 2017.
However, many residents see Buford Road as a county road and should be better maintained. As Spencer later argued, there was nothing in this agreement that prevented the county from improving the road.
However, Caseberry also said the county simply does not have enough manpower or resources to do ongoing maintenance.
The West Elk Buford Residents Association specifically advocates for improvements to 6.3 miles of Buford Road beginning at the cattle ranger 9.2 miles northwest of New Castle and ending at the north gate of the West Elk Creek Ranch at Elk Ridge Road 15.5 miles northwest. Newcastle. But Kisberry said the county does not own much of this section.
“This road is a Forest Service road,” he said. “It’s not a county road.”
Valario also spoke about the Buford Road ownership and how that impacts law enforcement.
“I have no authority to write wrongdoings to people in federal court,” he said.
The U.S. Forest Service confirmed it has only two law enforcement agents in the entire White River National Forest.
“I’ve got 900 miles of roads to patrol, okay?” Valario added. “And I’ve never been shy about telling everyone whether you want to hear it or not – traffic enforcement is a secondary priority for us. We have to answer calls first.”
One of the main interests of Buford Road by residents is also its log-ins. The Forest Service has launched a regional logging and logging project aimed at improving forest health in 2021, but residents have complained that trucks are giving them early morning wake-up calls when operations begin as well as causing road damage.
Rifle District Ranger Joe Fazzi confirmed Wednesday that logging operations have continued longer than originally expected due to the long winter. But regarding potential annexation, Fazzey said there are many avenues for the county to consider jurisdiction over Buford Road.
The commissioners agreed, but emphasized that this could take a very long time.
“For us to change that, we’re going to have to make a decision by this House to do that,” said Commissioner Mike Sampson. “And in the process, we’ll fight the federal government.”
Committee Chairman John Martin echoed that sentiment.
“What it comes down to is we just need to assert ourselves in order to make the road safe,” he said. “And also working with the Forest Service, working with the chippers and getting everything done so the public can use this road without the risk of losing their lives.”
Contractual agreements aside, the county has budgeted $500,000 to improve the gravel on Buford Road. Meanwhile, the Forest Service was awarded $487,000 for Buford Road maintenance for 2024, but that also covers the Rio Blanco area, Fazzi said.
According to Spencer, the $500,000 for more grit is not enough. Instead, it would require expansion and paving, a project that would likely require millions in funding.
“This whole road needs to be redesigned,” Spencer said.
Commissioners agreed that the road needs long-term improvements, with the association calling for an action plan. In the short term, the county has offered to set aside more sustainable space for Buford Road.
“The question is: What can we do to make this as safe as possible between now and when we really start implementing this goal?” Thompson said of the potential improvement plan.