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Faribault Co. engineer seeks more road funds

September 15, 2012
Jodelle Greiner - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

BLUE EARTH - What would you do with $150,000?

That would be enough for a simple road overlay for a little more than one mile, according to John McDonald, director of Faribault County Public Works Department.

McDonald said his usual annual budget is around $980,000, but he is asking county commissioners for an additional $150,000 for 2013.

The reason is McDonald plans to do more roadwork in the near future, and he wants the money for bituminous surfacing.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's pavement presentation is "Doing the right fix on the right road at the right time," McDonald said. "That's what we try to do."

To help, the Minnesota Department of Transportation measured the smoothness of the roads using a Ride Quality Index. The RQI has a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best.

"The average number in 2007 [was] just over 3," McDonald said.

Even though the public works department has been making on-going repairs, the roads continue to deteriorate.

"In 2011, the RQI dropped. We're just under 2.9," McDonald said.

He believes he knows why.

"What it's telling me is although we've got fewer people in the county, we've got a lot more truck movement than we had 20 years ago," he said.

"We're raising more corn and soybeans than we did 30 years ago; it's taking a toll on the roads," McDonald said.

All that extra grain means more large trucks hauling it into the elevators, and the heavier trucks wreak more havoc on the roads.

According to information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average yields from 1985 to 2011 have gone up from 141 to 176 bushels per acre for corn, and 36 to 48 bushels per acre for soybeans, with exceptions for crop disaster years.

"Probably a larger yield increase in corn than in soybeans," noted Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and former Extension educator.

While that's good news for farmers, getting all that grain to market creates a headache for road crews. The problem is Faribault County has hundreds of miles of roads and only so much money to repair them.

"We have 280 miles of hard surface roads in the county," McDonald said. There are also 170 miles of non-paved roads. "We're seeing the surface quality start to decrease as the pavement ages. We're having a harder time keeping up with that."

The RQI test will help.

"With MnDOT, we can see which roads have the most stress and where we should put our funds," he added.

McDonald plans to use as much state aid as he can get because he will need every bit he can find.

Faribault County has more than 35 bridges made of timber. They are about 50 to 60 years old and need to be replaced, McDonald said.

The bridge on County Road 1 north of Guckeen recently was repaired with state sale bonds designated for bridge construction. Faribault County used more than $400,000 in bridge bonding money in 2012.

"It works out really well if we can tap into those funds," McDonald said.

However, it's not just the construction costs McDonald is worried about.

"All our costs have gone up," he said, using as examples fuel and tires.

"We'll do the best we can with the limited resources we have," McDonald added.



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