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Willmar, Minn., property owners shoulder half of $1.2M street work cost

Roise Avenue, a short stretch from First to Fourth Street Southwest in Willmar, is among the eight streets in the city scheduled for improvements this summer and fall. The street is pictured Tuesday facing east. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Willmar city officials are trying a new tactic this summer with the 2012 street improvement program: They'll test whether concrete holds up better than asphalt at one of the busiest and wettest stretches in town -- the entrances and exits from Walt's Car Wash on Roise Avenue.

"I can't guarantee that concrete is going to be the answer to that street," said Holly Wilson, public works director for the city.

But it's a chance to evaluate the durability of using concrete, she said. "We felt this street is a good test site."

Roise Avenue, a short stretch from First to Fourth Street Southwest, is among the eight streets in town scheduled for improvements this summer and fall.

The complete list of projects was outlined for the Willmar City Council during a hearing Monday night to set the assessment rate for property owners. Property owners are shouldering just under half of the $1.2 million total; the city will pick up the rest of the cost.

The streets undergoing reconstruction were originally built anywhere from 30 to 100 years ago and most of them rate poorly on measures of condition and drivability, Wilson said.

Roise Avenue, one of the oldest, was first built in 1912, reconstructed in 1987 and patched numerous times, she said.

City Council members were enthusiastic about trying concrete on this stretch of street, which gets significant traffic and moisture from freshly washed cars exiting the tunnel wash at Walt's.

When pavement fails, it's usually because of moisture and cracking, said Councilman Ron Christianson. "That happens all the time with asphalt."

Concrete "should last quite a bit longer," he said.

Wilson said her department consulted with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's concrete laboratory to develop the plans for Roise Avenue. The concrete will add $3,000 to the cost of reconstructing the street -- but the city plans to pay the difference itself rather than assessing it to the property owners, she said.

Mike Brown, co-owner of Walt's, voiced support Monday night for the city's plan.

The big concern is how Walt's will manage the traffic when reconstruction shuts down the entrances and exits along Roise Avenue, Brown said.

"It basically shuts down half of our bays and it shuts down our tunnel wash," he said.

The tunnel wash accounts for a significant portion of Walt's volume, and disruption of the service will be "a detriment to our business," he said.

Wilson couldn't promise there won't be any disruption, but she said the project will be done in phases to minimize the traffic issues. There will be at least some access to Walt's along Roise "during the majority of the construction period," she said.

Council members heard only one objection Monday night to the street improvement assessment amounts. It came from the Willmar Care Center, a 52-bed skilled nursing facility on Russell Avenue, which is set to undergo reconstruction. The care center's share of the assessment for the project is just under $18,000.

In a letter submitted to the council, nursing home officials said that in a climate of tightening regulations and deep reimbursement cuts to skilled nursing facilities, the cost of the assessment will add a significant burden.

Dawn Broesder, administrator of the Willmar Care Center, also spoke in person at Monday's hearing to address another concern: the nursing home's emergency entrance and exit.

The exit is used once or twice a month and needs to be kept open -- or alternative arrangements made -- so that emergency medical technicians can get in and out, Broesder said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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