Nobles County eyes future road projects during tour
WORTHINGTON — Nearly every year, the Nobles County Board of Commissioners sets out on a road tour with Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder to assess the county road system and examine county properties for potential improvements.
It’s also a time to talk about transportation funding.
In 2017, Nobles County bonded nearly $10 million for bituminous paving on several miles of the county road system. It’s now working to pay off that bond at a rate of about $1 million a year.
“We’re short on state aid funding and from the county through local taxes, too, to improve the roadways,” Schnieder said. “We’re doing a pretty good job maintaining things, but we haven’t done any rebuilding on our county highway system for eight years or maybe even longer.”
With 465 miles of county roads and county state aid highways, Schnieder said the county should be rebuilding, on average, 4.5 miles a year to be on a cycle of redoing each mile of roadway every 100 years.
Most counties are in the same situation.
“It’s not just Nobles County,” Schnieder said. “There’s very little reconstruction going on in counties across the state. Rebuilding four or five miles of roadway doesn’t happen very often anymore, particularly if it’s a paved road.”
Earlier this month, commissioners adopted a resolution seeking legislative support for an increase in transportation funding. A statewide increase in the gas tax is being proposed, but another option could be to enact a half-cent sales tax in Nobles County to specifically fund transportation projects.
If, as Gov. Tim Walz has proposed, a 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax is implemented, Schnieder said it would generate a little more than $1 million a year for the county. Meanwhile, it costs $500,000 to $1 million to rebuild one mile of roadway.
During the road tour, commissioners looked at several potential projects, from rebuilding roadways to doing mill and overlays and replacing bridges. Some of the projects have been discussed in the past, while others aren’t yet in the county’s five-year road plan.
Among the projects Schnieder highlighted were:
- The intersection of Oxford Street and Diagonal Road, where commissioners have discussed in recent years the potential for a round-about to improve traffic flow at what is now a four-way stop. The project would likely be done in conjunction with replacement of culverts located both under the intersection and directly east of it.
The project would require collaboration with the city, as it involves relocation of utility lines.
“It may end up being 2022 or sometime later before we’d be able to do a project at that intersection,” Schnieder said.
- A mill and overlay on Nobles County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 35 toward Adrian. This road was reconstructed and paved during a wet year, and there has been settling. Schnieder said he’d like to smooth the roadway out and, while doing so, there’s discussion about widening the roadway to provide for more activity, such as bicycling.
“County State Aid Highway 35 is a corridor for the state’s regional trail system,” he said. “By paving the shoulder, it meets state requirements if someone is riding (bicycle) on the roadway. (Vehicles) would be able to stay in their lane and not move over the center line.”
Schneider said paving the shoulders would also be beneficial for the large farm implements that use the roadway.
- County gravel roads that would be good candidates for paving, including Nobles County 14, the only gravel road that crosses Interstate 90; Nobles County 54 near Sunrise Prairie Park southeast of Ellsworth; and the entrance to Maka Oicu County Park. Schnieder said he’d like to see the park road paved wide enough so people can bike, rollerblade or walk on a paved surface.
- Necessary replacement of the CSAH 19 bridge north of Ellsworth, which was downgraded earlier this year due to deterioration of the timber piling. A new bridge is being designed, with the goal to start construction yet this fall and completion by early next year. The presence of Topeka Shiner in the stream prohibits any construction prior to Aug. 15.
“The county may end up funding that project all on their own because there may not be a bonding bill from the state this year,” Schnieder said.
- Potential mill and overlay projects, including CSAH 1 in Brewster and CSAH 31 in Lismore, which would also include completion of ADA-accessible sidewalk ramps.
“I think a lot of these mill and overlay projects, we’ll be getting those scheduled within the next five years,” Schnieder said. “They may go sooner if we get them under contract. We will talk about how many municipal projects we can fit in.”
- A redesign of CSAH 25 on the south side of Worthington, leading to the new Lakeside Travel Plaza. The plan is to change the intersection at the old highway by creating a curve in the road. Vehicles going east from Flower Lane would then have the stop sign, instead of those traveling west from town out toward the new Minnesota 60 access.
“We’re at the time where we can start to program a project there,” Schnieder said. “It won’t be done in 2020, but it may be in 2021. I’d like to see it done sooner rather than later.”
- A redesign of CSAH 16, west of Wilmont, that would include removing the curves for safety reasons. The curves were installed when the railroad tracks were still there.
With those gone, and the three bridges at that location eligible for funding, Schnieder said now would be the time to consider removing the curves to create a straight roadway. He anticipates it could be done within the next two to three years.
- The potential to turn some of its 72 miles of county gravel roads back to townships so that it could concentrate on its paved road system. There was also talk about strengthening some gravel roads with a history of frost boils so that it has less of an impact on traffic.
“By doing that, I think we can better serve the people who use those gravel roads,” Schnieder said. “We’d like to go from a 7- to a 9-ton roadway, ultimately, on all county gravel roads. It’s not all going to happen in a year. We’ll find the worst problems first.
“If we do some every year, hopefully 10 to 20 years from now we’ll have gotten to all of the roads and gotten them to a higher standard for people.”
- Resurfacing both the public works shop lots in Worthington and Adrian, which would include removal of the existing bituminous lot and replacement with concrete in Worthington, with paving of the gravel areas at the Adrian lot.
“We were holding off doing anything there until the Adrian shop addition could be completed,” Schnieder said.
- Possible construction of a new salt and sand storage facility in Adrian. The county has a cold storage facility south of Worthington, where some product is stored outside. Schnieder said outside storage isn’t appropriate for environmental reasons.
“Right now, we’re mixing (salt and sand) south of town and the storage capacity we have there is very limited,” he said. “By putting in (a new facility) at Adrian, we would have larger capacity.”
Putting a storage shed at Adrian makes sense because the product is hauled in from Rock County, Schneider explained, adding that it would cut transportation costs from hauling product to Worthington and then back to the western half of the county.
“Its closer to where it’s needed and there’s more space there,” he said.
Commissioners discussed the potential on the tour, but have yet to take action on the proposal. Schnieder said if they do authorize the new facility, it could be budgeted for construction in 2020.