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Constant maintenance projects crucial to keeping Kandiyohi County roads in good condition

Staff from Kandiyohi County Public Works gave several presentations May 4 to the Kandiyohi County Board on the condition of roads in the county and the department's plans to keep them in good condition. In 2022, Public Works plans to do more than $14 million in projects ranging from reconstruction to crack sealing.

Kandiyohi County Road 41 in Willmar.JPG
One of the 2022 road projects on Kandiyohi County's schedule is the reclamation of County Road 41 in Willmar, also known as the radio station road, pictured May 10, 2022. The county will be working with the city to complete the project with construction to start Monday, May 16.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Every two years staff from the state's Office of Materials and Road Research drive every single state and federal aid road to grade the road's ride quality index, or how smooth the ride is on that particular roadway. That Minnesota Department of Transportation office then gives each county a report card on its road conditions.

"Drivers want a smooth road," said Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Mel Odens, speaking May 4 at the Kandiyohi County Board's road and bridge meeting. "What do you consider a good road?"

The most recent road quality index report showed that 75 percent of Kandiyohi County roads are in average drivable condition, with ride quality indexes between 45 and 75. Another 23 percent are in above average condition, with indexes between 75 and 100. Only 2 percent of the county's state and federal aid roads are in the worst shape.

"The heart of the roads are above average," Odens said.

Kandiyohi County Road 41 in Willmar2.JPG
Maintenance work, such as reclamation, overlay and crack sealing, help keep Kandiyohi County roads in above average driving condition. A project on County Road 41 in Willmar, pictured May 10, 2022, is scheduled to begin Monday.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

To keep roads in as good a condition as possible requires a constant stream of maintenance projects, ranging from complete road reconstruction and paving to crack sealing and shoulder reclamation. In 2022, the county plans to do 8.2 miles of reconstruction on portions of County Roads 1, 4 and 2 along with 17 miles of bituminous paving including portions of County Roads 4, 20, 44, 1, 41, 7, 2 and 116.

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"We do about 25 miles per year," Odens said.

The county is also planning on 27 miles of seal coating, 37 miles of crack sealing and 211 miles of striping across the county. There has already been a start to shoulder reclamation — repairing the gravel shoulders that have spread out due to use. This will save the county about $250,000 in gravel costs because reclaiming uses the material already out there.

"We're going to be busy now that the weather is warming up," said Todd Miller, maintenance manager for Kandiyohi County Public Works.

Map of the 2022 Kandiyohi County road projects.
Map of the 2022 Kandiyohi County road projects.
Contributed / Kandiyohi County Public Works

All the work scheduled for this year is estimated to cost around $14.3 million. Odens said it is normal for public works to "over-program" by about $1 million, because usually the contingency fund and favorable bids make up the difference. This year will be a bit different, since high fuel and product costs are having an impact on the budget.

"We're still a half-million high," Odens said, adding the commissioners don't need to be concerned about the budget. "We will be using road and bridge reserves. I'm confident we have the money."

Coming up with the annual and five-year construction plans is a dance between funding and maintenance needs. Odens and his staff are always looking for projects that give the county the best bang for the buck as well as keeping the entire county road system in good condition — all while are also preparing for major, costly improvement projects like a new bridge or the safety improvements at County Road 9 near New London.

There is also the question about which road needs the money more — the one in the worst condition or the one that with a bit of maintenance can have the life of its pavement extended.

"One of the worst things you can do is the philosophy of worst first," Odens said. "You'll never build yourself out of it."

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Odens said public works focuses on the ride quality of its roads when deciding which roads to fix and is also aggressive when looking for additional funding such as state bonding or sales tax to pay for those large and expensive projects.

"That was the importance of the local option sales tax ," Odens said, which over the next several years will help fund projects the county might not have been able to undertake without it.

The goal of all the strategic planning Public Works does, both in regard to funding and project choice, is to make sure Kandiyohi County doesn't end up going backward when it comes to caring for its nearly 450 miles of paved roads and 210 miles of gravel.

"We weigh a lot of things, we care about a lot of things, we monitor the ride, we monitor a lot of things," Odens said.

While it may be an easy way to save some money in a cash-strapped year, pushing back road projects nearly always means more money spent in future years.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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