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Renville County Commissioners look at costly road issues

OLIVIA -- Frost boils and all of the problems associated with a harsh winter and prolonged wet period have focused attention on gravel road needs in Renville County.

The county has 315 miles of gravel roadway it is responsible for, and at least 10 percent of those miles are in need of re-grading, Public Works Director Marlin Larson told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

It would "easily'' cost $3.5 million to re-grade those miles, according to the director's rough estimate.

The public works director is also proposing that the county considers installing tile drainage at sites along gravel roads where water problems have been evident this year. A rough estimate suggests there are at least 60 sites where tile drainage could be needed. At a likely cost of $2,500 or more per site, the county would need to invest $150,000 to improve those problem sites.

The county's road and bridge fund currently has about $1,150,000 in reserve. Larson said he believes about $190,000 could be used for tiling. He recommended holding the remainder in the reserve fund for cash flow and emergencies.

The commissioners indicated interest in seeing tile drainage installed at the sites. They could decide as early as their next meeting June 28 whether or not to pursue it.

They noted that landowners in the affected areas would likely support the idea and be receptive to connecting the tile to private lines.

There is likely to be much more discussion on how to address the re-grading needs. Larson and members of the public works department noted that with only a few exceptions, the county has not re-graded its gravel roads in 40 years. The last major grading work took place in 1971.

Almost all of the gravel road miles are county roads and not county state aid roads, which receive a dedicated share of motor vehicle fuel tax revenues.

The county could pursue bonding and address the needs at once, but commissioners noted that the size of the bond needed would make the idea unpopular with taxpayers.

The other option would be to increase the annual road and bridge fund levy, which is currently $1.8 million. A 10 percent levy increase would raise $180,000, or only enough to fund 1½ miles of the needed work each year.

The commissioners noted that all county roads are seeing a steady increase in the weight of loads. They voiced concerns that addressing only a few miles of the needs each year may not keep pace with the demands.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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