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Willmar streets need millions in repairs

If the city of Willmar was to fix and maintain all of its streets to the best of its ability, it would need to spend nearly $17 million a year. Currently, the annual street improvement budget is nearer to $4 million. Interim Willmar Public Works Director Gary Manzer gave a presentation to the Willmar City Council regarding city pavement conditions and what could be done in a best-case scenario street plan.

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Over the past two years 1st Street South in Willmar has gotten a new overlay of asphalt, increasing its lifespan. Willmar Public Works Director Gary Manzer said at a presentation with the Willmar City Council that the city will need to greatly increase its street improvement budget if it hopes to keep on top of repairs and maintenance. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — Amongst the 134 miles of streets in the city of Willmar, about 15 miles are beyond repair and need to be completely reconstructed, according to Gary Manzer, interim Willmar Public Works director. And if Willmar doesn't increase its street maintenance plan and budget, that number will most likely continue to grow.

"We are falling way short of what we should be doing," Manzer said at the Aug. 16 Willmar City Council meeting.

Based on a street pavement management cycle Manzer presented to the council, the city should be reconstructing 2.69 miles, overlaying 5.5 miles and crack-sealing 8 miles of street per year. The reality is far from that. On average, Willmar is reconstructing only 0.74 miles, overlaying 1.75 miles and has a budget of $70,000 each year for crack sealing.

The yearly budget for street projects the last few years has been between $3 million and $4 million. If the city wanted to follow the management plan, it would cost around $17 million a year, Manzer said.

"We do what we can do," Manzer said.

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Manzer admits this plan is an ideal, one that would be put in place if the city didn't have to worry about how it would fund it. However, what is clear is that the city needs to do something, even if it is just increasing the crack-sealing budget, which could help stretch the lifespan of the city's streets.

"It should have a 50-year life cycle from the time you build it to the time you have to reconstruct it," Manzer said, but that is only possible with a proper maintenance plan, including crack sealing. Without a structured maintenance plan, streets might last around 20 years before they have to be reconstructed.

Based on how much more expensive reconstruction is compared to overlay and crack sealing, not following a maintenance plan actually costs the city more money in the long run — a figure of about $25 million per year, according to Manzer's numbers.

While the news wasn't the greatest, it wasn't all bad.

Manzer believes there are plenty of streets the city can save from further deterioration if maintenance projects can be funded. He also made sure to tell the council that Willmar is not alone in the struggle to keep streets in good shape.

"As bad as it feels, we are no different than any other city," Manzer said, who added he felt the city would be able to get a handle on its streets.

Manzer wasn't looking for any decisions from the council after his presentation. Instead, he wanted direction from the council to allow city administration and staff to begin brainstorming ways to improve Willmar's street infrastructure.

"We really need to look at obtaining a more aggressive program with more longer-range planning," Manzer said.

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Councilor Andrew Plowman said the council needs to do something, even if the city can't fix everything at once.

"We all use these roads and streets," Plowman said. "This is where we live, and we need to take care of it."

City Administrator Leslie Valiant said staff is already starting to see what changes can be made to the budget and the street improvement plan in hopes of increasing street maintenance.

"As the budget comes together, you will see more and more of this," Valiant said.

How the city will plan and pay for an increased number of street improvements still needs to be answered, but the council seemed to be on board to have those challenging conversations.

"Hopefully we can do better then we have in the past," said Mayor Marv Calvin.

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A flagger directs traffic on U.S. Highway 12 in Willmar, Minn., on Monday, July 19, 2021. Willmar has approximately 134 miles of roads that require regular pavement maintenance to keep in good shape. According to Manzer, about 15 miles of roads are beyond repair and need to be completely reconstructed. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune file photo

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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