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A rough ride: MnDOT officials discuss emergency repairs to U.S. 75 in Luverne

Drivers on U.S. 71 in Luverne are hugging the fog line or the center line to avoid the ruts in the driving lane. Officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation agree the road is in rough shape through Luverne, and they will try to make some repairs to keep the highway usable until a potential reconstruction of the highway in 2025. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

LUVERNE — With drivers inching into the center lane or crossing over the fog line in order to avoid the ruts and bumps on U.S. 75 through the city of Luverne, it’s clear something has to be done to fix the crumbling pavement — and soon.

The highway is slated for a possible reconstruction in 2025, but with its current condition, it appears the road won’t last as long as officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) had hoped.

A Monday meeting organized by MnDOT with leaders from the city of Luverne and Rock County included discussion on a temporary fix to the highway, collaboration leading up to 2025 and the need for more funding.

MnDOT District 7 Engineer Greg Ous said the 13-county district is leading the pack — not in a good way — when it comes to the number of roads rated in poor condition. A chart comparing each of the state’s eight districts and the metro showed District 7 had the highest percentage of miles in the “poor ride quality” index of any other district at 14.5% for non-National Highway System roads of which U.S. 75 is included. Running a close second was District 1, headquartered in Duluth, at 13.9%. District 2, headquartered in Bemidji, and District 8, based in Willmar, had the lowest percentage of roads rated as poor in the 2018 report.

Ous said Monday he recognizes the roughness of U.S. 75 in Luverne’s city limits. He acknowledged that not only the aggregate, but the aggregate between each rock, is deteriorating.

“We’re making some investments in roads this year that we wouldn’t like to have made,” Ous said. “It will definitely help you with the roughness.”

Ous said the longitudinal deterioration of the highway can “grab a motorcycle” and cause damage to aluminum wheels on vehicles.

“There’s something interesting going on in the concrete —  the substrate,” Ous said. “It’s kind of bubbling out and coming up. The bituminous is showing signs of cracking.”

The plan is to bring a crew in soon to take core samples on the highway, which Ous said will “be really telling” in what is happening to the roadway.

Ous said a half-million-dollar investment in the highway now won’t push the project past 2025, but it will extend the life of the road to 2025.

Luverne Mayor Patrick Baustian said the highway wasn’t good through the winter, but it’s worse this spring. As the only corridor going north and south through the city, he said it is well used by the agricultural community, and its equipment is “taking a rattle.”

“You have the largest semis running; you see the size of the trucks and some of them are overweight, we know that,” Baustian said. “I think you have a lot of old concrete under there.”

“People are getting off the normal track, moving over, and if we don’t do something, that whole thing is going to start busting out,” added Rock County Commissioner Gary Overgaard.

Ous said the plans are to do “some sort of mill and fill over the driving lanes,” milling off existing material and refilling, but it’s unknown when the work will be done. Money available toward the end of MnDOT’s fiscal year June 30 will be taken from another pot to fund the emergency repair.

“That will take some of the immediate roughness out of the road,” Ous said, adding that it will just be a temporary fix and some frost-boil-like damage will return before more extensive repairs can be made in 2025. “The center (of the road) looks excellent and I totally understand why they’re travelling on it — it looks great.”

The 2025 plan

MnDOT’s fiscal year starts on July 1, which means that a potential reconstruction of U.S. 75 would be on the calendar sometime after July 1, 2024.

When Baustian asked if the project could potentially move up on the list, MnDOT Assistant District Engineer Peter Harff said there’s a lot of additional work and coordination when a project goes through an urban area — and a lot more cost, too.

Ronda Allis, MnDOT District 7 planner, said two separate projects are identified on U.S. 75 — one that stretches from Interstate 90 north to Veterans Drive, and from Veterans Drive north to Trosky.

“If it needs to be a full reconstruction project, it runs $6 million a mile,” she said, noting that figure is for a two-lane road. With Luverne having a third lane for turning, it adds another 50 percent to the cost.

If just a base build is done, the cost ranges from $300,000 to $500,000 per mile, again based on a two-lane road.

Meanwhile, Allis said the cost to do the 15-mile segment between Luverne and Trosky is approximately $3.8 million.

Transportation funding

With state legislators still in disagreement on a potential increase in the gas tax, and a proposal to shift tax revenue on auto parts from the transportation fund to the general fund for education and human services costs, the outlook isn’t rosy for the transportation department.

Allis said if just a 10-cent-per gallon gas tax is approved, 7 cents of it would go toward existing debt. And Ous said if the auto parts tax is shifted away from transportation, that’s the equivalent of a 7-cent-per-gallon cut as well.

Each penny increase in the gas tax amounts to the generation of $30 million, noted Allis. Typically, District 7 would see 10 percent of that amount, or about $3 million.

“In the scope of things, that’s not a lot,” said Baustian. “We could easily use all of that in town.”

Baustian is advocating for an increase in the gas tax, noting the last increase was seven years ago, when it rose from 27.5 cents to 28.5 cents per gallon. The tax has not been funded for inflation, he added.

“I don’t see how the state cannot raise the gas tax,” Baustian said, adding that the increased interest in electric-powered vehicles will only reduce gas tax revenues and hurt the state’s funding mechanism even more.

Rock County leaders, however, see it differently. At a recent board meeting, commissioners discussed support for an increase in the gas tax but no motion was made, according to Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre.

“The belief is there’s enough money in St. Paul — it’s just where their priorities are,” Oldre said. “They’re looking at a $2 billion increase in the state budget. That’s enough money. It needs to be a priority at the state level, within their funding streams.

“In our world, transportation is a high priority and that’s where the funding should go,” he added.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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