Compass: Road Construction Improvements


talk
about how rural road projects are chosen and developed, we
have from Otter Tail County the county engineer, Rick West. Thanks for coming in, Rick.
– Thank you. – [Les] And we also have
the MnDOT District Engineer Jody Martinson, Jody,
thanks for coming in. – Thank you. And because we have viewers
from a very wide viewing area we’ll just cover some sort
of geography here first. Otter Tail County,
West Central Minnesota. And your region, Jody,
it’s from sort of– it’s West Central Minnesota
and also a little bit of Northwest, right? – Yep, we have, we go
down to Swift County and over to Otter Tail
County, the city of Ottertail up to Mahnomen and then the
Minnesota, North Dakota border. So towns like Appleton and
Morris and Fergus Falls and Mahnomen and Detroit
Lakes all in your area. – Yep, Alexandria, Moorhead. – Yeah. So, I know that this is,
again, a topic that could take a lot of time to go over
because rural road projects and everybody thinks their
road is the most important or needs the most changes. So, how do you start
with this enormous task of figuring out
rural road projects? Jody, I’ll start with you,
how does MnDOT do that? – Well, we look at the
funding that’s available. The type of funding, we
get some from state money federal money, but really,
we’re in a preservation mode so a lot of our roads that
we’re fixing right now are preservation projects. And so we’re looking at
what kind of condition the road is in, how much
life is left in that road. How smooth is it, what’s
it like to drive over it how much money are we
putting into maintenance. So, we have quite a list
of projects and then you basically go through and
prioritize and take the ones in the worst condition and
start chipping away at it. – When we talk about planning
I know you had mentioned before we started the show we
had a little bit of time here to talk about planning
ideas, and you said that there are ways for
the public to get involved. There are meetings and
those kinds of things so tell us how that works or
has worked in your county. – In Otter Tail County
when we developed the plan we had 14 public open houses to educate, to do
outreach to our citizens and to educate our citizens
on where the money comes from for roads, how we
do our planning. Are we doing our planning
in the proper manner? And through that whole process it was well worth
our time and effort. It really helped us to
explain the situation at hand with what we have for funding
and our budgets are limited as everyone’s are. So you have to make
sure that you’re putting the money that you
have in the right place in reference, highways. We were very satisfied with
the outcome of that process. And the folks that
chose to participate and come to those
meetings, I think learned how the system works. And understand why we– more so, why we do what we do and how the prioritization
happens with road projects. – So, it sort of takes
away some of the mystery of why this project
versus that one and why this bridge
versus that area. – Exactly, there’s a
reason for all that and there’s the method of
that selection process. Not everyone may agree with it but there is a process. – And Jody, I know with
MnDOT, when we were talking before the show started here
you’d mentioned the fact that some of these things, the
planning is maybe much longer than people realize. You’re talking about
five or six years because a major highway
project can involve so many different
pieces, correct? – Absolutely. You know, MnDOT
looks at our projects and we have a 10 year plan
and so we’re pretty close as to what projects are
coming up the next 10 years. But like you mentioned,
about year six is really where we wanna
meet with that community. If we’re going through a city,
we need to meet with them and find out what their
needs are too because they’re just facing right
now where a lot of their infrastructure is at
the end of its life. And so if they need to
replace their water and sewer that’s expensive for them. And it’s a huge financial
impact so they need to be able to afford that they can
do that at the same time our project goes through. And when we do that it also
provides us an opportunity to really do some
thoughtful planning. And so we can meet with
the cities beforehand and capture their needs. And there’s a great
program out there now with the Department of
Health sponsors it and it’s a Partnership
for Health. So, basically they have
resources where they can send an advocate out to
the community that can help capture those needs and
some of the needs are infrastructure,
like I talked about. But some are also what
do they want their downtown to look like. So, the aesthetics, do
they want park benches do they want some
trees planted there and looking at the
width of their sidewalk and different things like that. Maybe they have some
safety needs too that we need to address
at that same time. It’s kind of a Complete
Streets concept. We look at peds,
we look at bikes we look at the cars,
we look at the freight going through there. And so we’re able
to capture that. Meeting with them six years old
gives us the time to do that and be able to afford
to plan in our budget. – So, it sounds like some of the Healthy Living
Community’s initiatives. For example, where you
put it together there how do we make this road
project also help people with better biking routes
or better walking routes or healthier communities
or beautification. So all of those things
can come into it at once? – Exactly.
– Yeah. And I know, Rick, earlier
you mentioned that for example, the
community Battle Lake is an example of a
community in your area that went through this, right? – That’s correct, Battle Lake not so many years ago
went through that. Battle Lake was actually, I
think, the first community in Otter Tail County
and it was a– it was a MnDOT project. We had some intersecting
county roads. But that was, I think,
the first one that was kind of a Complete
Streets concept. We’re looking at
safety, bikes, peds freight, all of the above. I thought it went very well. There was a lot of
community involvement and a lot of
discussion happened of what should the
downtown look like? What amenity should be on the trunk Highway
78 through Battle Lake. I’ve heard a lot of pot of
confidence from the citizens after it’s done. During construction
nothing’s pretty and there’s inconveniences
but I think after it was all wrapped up and the
flowers in their flower pots the next spring,
it looks very nice. It’s well-accepted and the
citizens are enjoying it. – So you have to start with
some very big questions and a lot of plans
and a lot of time. And then as time goes on
then sort of narrow it down and reshape it a little bit. – And I think we are all of us are doing a better
job in the planning arena than we– I’ve been in this
business a long time than we did 20 years ago. I mean, that’s real and I
think that’s a very good thing. – Yeah, it’s worth the
investment to spend that time up front to
figure it out, it is. You get such a better
project at the end. – We talked a minute ago
about the idea of how you sort of de-mystified
some of the road projects by having the public meetings
and I think one of the other mysteries for a lot of people
is how it all gets paid for. Um, because if someone’s
on a morning commute they may drive on roads that
are organized or supervised by three, four or five different from townships to
counties to cities to interstate highway systems,
whatever it may be. Is there a way to
help people understand where the funding comes
from for all of this? – Sure, it’s not an
easy question to answer. (all laughing) – There are a lot of challenges
to figuring out the funding. – There is. I’ll start and then I think Rick, you can probably go
into some of the local options that you have that MnDOT
doesn’t quite have. Basically, it starts out with there’s federal money and
then there’s some state money that’s distributed into
a trunk highway fund but basically, when we start
out with that state money there’s really three
sources that it comes from. So, gas tax, when
you’re at the pump and there’s a portion there. And then our motor
vehicles sales tax is another portion. And then basically
your tab fees. So, those three sources
from the state side of it get put into the Highway
User Distribution Fund and that is split basically MnDOT gets a portion
of it, about 62% roughly about 2/3 of it. Counties get a portion
and then the cities get a portion, too. And so, for MnDOT, we take
our portion from that state and mix it with the
federal money that we have and then that’s how our
projects, for the most part are programmed. There’s some special
funding that comes along maybe a special bonding
bill or something like that that’ll supplement that,
but that’s essentially where MnDOT gets
a majority of it. Now the locals have
a few more options. – We do. Jody mentioned how we use this trust fund which is
license fees and… those funds. But we receive 29% of that
as counties in Minnesota. Our other funding is federal. On the federal side,
example, Otter Tail County we may receive federal
highway dollars about every third year for a project. So, it’s not every year. Recently the state
legislation allowed us the ability, locally, to
institute a wheelies tax and a local up in sales tax which Otter Tail
County has done. – Some counties have chosen
to, some counties have not. – That is correct,
it’s optional. The county board has to
make the decision to do that and our county board did. What that relates in
funding for Ottertail are county-state aid
construction funds of about 6.7 million or 6.8
annually, million. Those two new sources wheelie tax and
local up in sales tax generate approximately
four million. So, for us, that’s a… that’s a nice amount of
money that we can invest in our highway system that
we didn’t have before. It’s generated locally
and that was part of our 14 open houses that
we talked about the ability to
generate these funds. I think one statement I
would like to make is that at one of our open houses
towards the end of the process one of the, actually
a retired farmer that I know a little
bit stood up and said “You know, our grandparents
and our parents “built this system,
maybe we need to step up “and maintain it.” And that will always
stick with me. So, we have those monies
now and it will help us. But in the long look at things we’re still about seven
million dollars short, annually to maintain and
preserve the system. – Let’s just say, if
that money were there and you were able to get
to that maintenance thing what would be the improvements
if you were to go beyond maintenance and look
at improvements. What are the sort of things
that people wanna see in improvements in roads, Jody? – Well, I think you’d look at
the type of fixes right now. We’re doing what we can
with the funds that we have so I think you would probably
see some longer term fixes. Instead of just milling off or removing the top two or
three inches of pavement you may go in and reclaim
and actually dig down into the gravel and do
a whole new surfacing. You’d probably see
some reconstructions. You might see some
shoulder widening. Where some of our
shoulders are very narrow you could see some
shoulder widening. You could do more, probably,
some concrete projects on Interstate 94, so I
think longer term fixes would be key. – And I think for Otter
Tail County we would look at we have a lot of– our system is 11-foot lanes
and a two-foot gravel shoulder. Very narrow, a lot of curves
and hills in Otter Tail County. You know, some of
these projects we would rebuild that roadway
and reconstruct it with wider shoulders for safety. One of our big issues is
load carrying capacity in spring of the year when
load restrictions are on. But where we’re at, a
lot of our work today the bulk of it is
gonna be preservation of what’s there
today on the ground. So, we would move
to doing some more major improvement type projects versus what we’re doing today. – Great, well, I
wish we had more time but we’re out of time
right now, so, Jody, Rick thank you for joining
us on Compass. – Thank you for the opportunity. – Thanks. – That’s it for this week
on road construction. Compass producer Laura Kay
Prosser will take it from here and end this week’s episode
with the next installment of the Compass
Literature Corner.




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