MnDOT says it will be unable to meet pavement preservation needs on some roads
WILLMAR -- A growing gap between revenues and road maintenance needs has the Minnesota Department of Transportation looking for public input in identifying where to get the most bang for the buck, and warning the public that rough roads are ahead.
In the 12 southwestern counties of District 8, the need for re-investment in road pavement and bridge preservation over the next 10 years is calculated at 130 percent of revenues, according to Patrick Weidemann, MnDOT planner with the Willmar office.
"A generally deteriorating system,'' said Brian McLafferty, transportation planner in the St. Paul office. He and Weidemann outlined the challenges ahead and the department's Corridor Investment Management Strategy to local officials on Wednesday evening in Willmar.
The district expects to spend 75 percent of its annual $34 million budget strictly on preservation work -- falling behind nonetheless. The district's main corridors, state Highway 23, and U.S. Highways 212 and 71, will continue to be maintained to meet MnDOT technical standards for mobility and pavement condition.
But in just a few more years, motorists will find that pavement conditions on portions of non-principal arteries -- state Highways 9 and 4 were among those named -- will not meet MnDOT technical standards.
With preservation eating up its budget, MnDOT will be forced to limit development projects to smaller-scale, safety-oriented projects deemed the most cost-effective.
The effort to develop a four-lane link from Willmar to Interstate 94 will be stalled for at least 10 years, according to Weidemann.
He said MnDOT has invested $107 million in the last nine years to develop the four-lane portions that exist from Willmar to Spicer, Richmond to St. Cloud, and the Paynesville bypass now near completion. The corridor meets technical standards for the traffic it carries, and consequently it will be very difficult to obtain additional dollars for completing the four-lane work.
District Engineer Jon Huseby said the local office will need specific examples of the four-lane project's economic and quality-of-life importance to the region if it is to compete for additional funding.
That news concerned those attending the meeting. Many pointed out the importance of the four-lane development to the region.
"These types of things are key to us to attract people,'' said Steve Salzar, general manager of the MinnWest Technology Campus. The Willmar business park has brought 363 jobs and 30 businesses to Willmar in the last six years, and there is no doubt about the importance of the four-lane access to its workers and businesses, he said.
Willmar serves as an economic engine for a large area of the region.
"I don't think we can overstate the importance of Highway 23 and getting that full, four-lane access to the interstate system completed as rapidly as possible,'' said Bruce Peterson, planning director for the city of Willmar. "It's not just Willmar. It's every small community and county around here that looks to our economy to support their population.''
Willmar at crossroads
WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County is one of the few in this region that has seen growth in every year since 1920, according to Steve Renquist, executive director for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
Willmar's geography makes it a transportation hub and certainly plays a role in the economic growth. Richard Larson, Kandiyohi County Commissioner, pointed out:
Willmar is the second-largest community on U.S. Highway 12 from the Twin Cities to the middle of Montana. Only Aberdeen, S.D., is larger.
Willmar is the second-largest community on Minnesota Highway 23 from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Duluth. Only St. Cloud is larger.
Willmar is the largest community on U.S. Highway 71 from Kansas City to International Falls.