Updated: March 10, 2011 at 12:00 am
RAMAH - The smallest town in El Paso County soon will have another distinction: all streets within city limits will be paved.
The remaining one-and-a-half blocks of dirt road here will get a hard surface, likely chip seal or concrete, later this year. That will bring the town’s total paved roadway to about 3.5 miles, said Town Trustee Keith McCafferty.
The estimated cost of $60,337 is a shade more than the town’s annual budget, which McCafferty said is spent on street lights, snow removal, supplying water and sewer to residents, and other operational expenses.
A federal Community Development Block Grant is responsible for the financial windfall. Such grants are intended to help towns meet an urgent need, prevent blight and spur economic development.
It’s important that the town’s last dirt road get paved for a few reasons, McCafferty said, including bringing the deeply rutted and worn surface to code.
Erosion has caused drainage problems and safety concerns, added City Clerk Cindy Tompkins. The road provides access to a few homes, as well as the town’s sewer lagoon and a brush dump.
“We could never have afforded to do this on our own,” McCafferty said.
More than half of the residents in Ramah, population 123, are low- to moderate-income, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures. Many residents are retirees living on a fixed income, Tompkins said.
Incorporated in 1927, Ramah once was a stop along the Rock Island railroad line on the eastern edge of the county. A general store, a creamery, a hotel and other businesses made the town vibrant.
The rich history is a stark contrast to 21st century Ramah. While there’s still an ordinance on the books about what days residents can play pool, there’s nowhere to play pool today. Ramah has no bar or restaurant. In fact, there’s no retail or commercial development at all.
McCafferty relates a story he likes to tell: A motorist with out-of-state license plates stopped one day while McCafferty was sitting on his front porch.
“Where do you keep your gas stations?” the traveler asked.
McCafferty replied, “Five miles that way or nine miles that way.”
Neighboring towns Simla and Calhan have gas stations. Ramah does not.
At mid-day on a recent weekday, wild turkeys roamed the streets, along with a few dogs. The sparse population and quietude attracted Tracie Dixon, who’s lived in Ramah for three years.
“I love going to town only every other week,” she said, referring to her jaunts to Colorado Springs to get groceries and do other errands.
Although the strip of 2nd Street approved for pavement runs in front of her house, Dixon said she doesn’t care whether it’s dirt or pavement.
“As far as I know, it’s not coming out of my pocket — I’m not having to pay any taxes for it — but it doesn’t matter to me whether it stays dirt or not,” she said.
But she said she is glad that another road slated for pavement, 1st Street, is being fixed because whenever it rains, the dirt washes down the hill into other roadways and creates a hazard.
Ramah has received three grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program since 2009, the first year such funding became available to towns in unincorporated El Paso County, said Tiffany Colvert, a county community development specialist.
“Before, they would have competed at the state level and it would have been much more difficult. Now, these funds are more accessible,” she said.
Ramah got a new $46,000 septic system last year, and paving on 1st Street was funded in 2010. Construction on that $72,000 project will start soon, McCafferty said, and will help buses navigate the streets more easily.
“These rural areas have not had any funds like this before, and it’s really impactful,” Colvert said.