WILLMAR — Only 1% of the state roadways in the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 are presently considered in poor condition, when rated using the ride quality index. However, that is forecasted to change for the worse over the next decade, as more and more of the roadways get older and their remaining service life reduces. MnDOT expects District 8 to have the worst pavement condition in the state by 2031.
That was part of the message received at Tuesday's Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meeting when Lindsey Bruer, MnDOT District 8 Planning director presented the 10-year Capital Highway Investment Plan.
"This is kind of a worst-case scenario," Bruer said, adding MnDOT's modeling is normally more conservative then what actually happens. "The trend is going in the wrong direction."
District 8, which is headquartered in Willmar, covers a 12-county area of southwestern Minnesota.
The good news is MnDOT plans to use more of its funding for pavement projects over the coming years, and there is a chance District 8 could see more money to fix its condition issues.
"Condition is a big part of it," in how funding is distributed, Bruer said. "We do expect to see more money."
On average District 8 receives about $40 million to $50 million each year for its long to-do list of road repairs, improvements and new construction. The funding can vary from year to year, depending on need.
"That is based on the needs of our system, to meet pavement and bridge performance," Bruer said.
Over the next several years, District 8 will be completing multiple projects in Kandiyohi County. Some of those projects are already under construction because MnDOT's fiscal year runs from July through June. Drivers on US Highway 12 going from Pennock to Willmar and from 6th Street East to 24th Street in Willmar have probably already run into construction, as a medium mill and overlay project is underway.
Also in fiscal year 2022, MnDOT will be working on the State Highway 23 safety improvement project at the intersection of Highways 23 and 9 in New London. The project includes the construction of a J-turn intersection on 23, and a mid-block crossing and bump-outs along 9 in front of the New London - Spicer school.
Construction will begin on the Highway 23 North Gap project, which will see the two-lane section of the highway expanded into four lanes. This gap runs from Paynesville to Richmond. A second gap project, from New London to Paynesville, will be under construction in fiscal year 2023. All of the gap work is set to be completed in 2024 and for a cost of over $100 million. The project is being funded through the Corridors for Commerce program.
A 2023 project that county commissioners — and apparently the commissioners' constituents — are looking forward to is the construction of the remaining three ramps at the Highway 23 and Kandiyohi County Road 5/55 interchange.
"There is an amazing amount of interest in that," said Commissioner Roger Imdieke.
The entire project at that intersection is a mix of MnDOT and county construction in multiple phases. What is currently in place there will not be what the finished project will look like, explained County Public Works Director Mel Odens. When the ramps are done, the temporary connection to Highway 23 from those county roads will be removed and it will be a full interchange. Doing the project in phases over the past few years allowed the county to keep the area open to traffic.
"It is confusing now, but it will get better," Odens said.
In 2024 and 2025, new left turn lanes will be installed — one set at 23 and Kandiyohi County Road 1 and a second on Highway 71 and Kandiyohi County Road 3.
"Hopefully (the turn lanes will) keep traffic more free-flowing," Bruer said.
The last major project on the list for Kandiyohi County is a concrete pavement rehabilitation, medium mill and overlay as well as American with Disabilities Act compliance upgrades for Highway 12 through downtown Willmar. That project is scheduled for fiscal year 2027.
Every year, MnDOT updates its 10-year plan and every five years it updates its 20-year investment plan. The investment plan helps MnDOT to decide where it needs to put funding. Part of the update process is gathering input from the various counties impacted. Bruer urged the county board to take part in that.
"I really encourage you to participate in that," Bruer said. "This investment direction directly impacts the projects we get to pick."