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Pounding the pavement: Roads already in poor driving condition are about to get worse

WORTHINGTON -- While Nobles County residents may already have something to say about the poor quality of some of its roadways, it's about to get worse, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

WORTHINGTON -- While Nobles County residents may already have something to say about the poor quality of some of its roadways, it’s about to get worse, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Rhonda Allis, principal planner for MnDOT District 7, appeared before the Nobles County Board of Commissioners Tuesday to present the agency’s 10-year capital highway improvement plan. Included in her report was a “Poor” Ride Quality Index based on non-National Highway System roadways.

Allis said MnDOT districts are required to have 10 percent of their roadways on the poor ride quality index each year. In 2015, District 7 had 9.8 percent of its roads rated poor, but by 2019, the percentage is predicted to rise to 28.4 percent -- far higher than any other district in the state. The metro district is predicted to have 16.7 percent of its roads in the poor category by 2019, with District 1 at Duluth predicted to have the third largest percentage of poor quality roads at 15.5 percent.

By 2025, District 7’s percentage of poor ride quality roads is predicted to dip slightly to 26 percent -- still far above other districts in the state. District 6 (Rochester), by comparison, is predicted to have 12.3 percent of its roads in poor quality ride condition.

Allis said the percentages take into consideration the proposed transportation projects within the district.

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“If 2017-2020 plan projects were all completed, we still jump to 28.4 percent,” she said.

The reason District 7 is expected to have far more poor ride quality roads in the future is because of past decisions.

“When we put the dollars into expanding roadways (the Minnesota 60 four-lane expansion and the U.S. 14 four-lane expansion), we don’t have the dollars to put into our existing roads,” Allis said. “We’re doing what we can.”

Allis noted that District 7 did receive an additional $20 million this year to address poor quality roads -- money that was taken from other districts.

Turning some highways back to counties is anticipated to alleviate some of the strain on MnDOT’s budget. Allis said the agency is working to get some roads up to a good condition to be able to complete turnbacks. In Nobles County, Minnesota 264 has been suggested as a possible turnback, but because the highway is located on the Nobles-Jackson line, it will take agreement from both counties.

During her presentation, Allis also spoke of the proposed projects MnDOT has in Nobles County. Remaining this year is a westbound and eastbound I-90 resurfacing project near Worthington from August through October. Meanwhile, the U.S. 59 bridge replacement and bituminous resurfacing project near Bigelow has already been completed.

“The 2017-2020 map reflects our current four-year program,” Allis said. “What we say is those are commitments from MnDOT that we agree to deliver. There are caveats where we have to adjust the work in our four-year program.”

Between 2017 and 2020, MnDOT has identified two projects in Nobles County. They include a mill and overlay of U.S. 59 (Oxford Street) and bituminous resurfacing on eastbound and westbound lanes on Interstate 90 near Worthington (to be completed in 2017) and the Minnesota 91 mill and overlay project slated for 2020.

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After discussions with the city of Worthington, Allis said the plan may change for the Oxford Street project, as the city has some major utility needs and wants to do a complete reconstruction. Unfortunately, the city has said it won’t have the funds until 2025 for that project.

“We are planning a thin overlay in 2017 and hopefully do something more substantial in the 2025 timeframe,” Allis said.

Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said it doesn’t make a lot of sense, from a taxpayer standpoint, to do a thin overlay in 2017 followed by a mill and overlay later.

“The city said it needed until 2025 to come up with the funding for utility upgrades,” Allis said, adding that a thin overlay will extend the life of the road about eight years, which is about the time the city estimates having the money for its utility reconstruction project. She has $5 million slated for an urban renewal project in Worthington in 2025.

“The 2021-2026 projects are just a plan at this point,” Allis said. “Those are going to change. Some may move up (on the list), and some may move out completely.”

Allis said funding changes from year to year, which makes it difficult to plan how many projects MnDOT District 7 can complete.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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