MnDOT: Bridges take priority for SE road funding; State agency seeks cost reductions

Published 8:14 am Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The message was clear — and familiar.

When Andrew Andrusko of the Minnesota Department of Transportation reviewed funding challenges in the District 6 capital improvement plan for County Commissioners on Tuesday, there were nods indicating they knew all about funding shortages.

The commissioners passed a half-cent sales tax and boosted its wheelage tax in July to stall funding shortages to fix the county’s road and bridges after the Legislature came up short on its commitment.

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Andrusko, who was filling in for District 6 planning director Ronda Allis, said if the DOT “had consistent funding … we could plan with more certainty,” but said that has not been the case in recent years. So, he said, more emphasis is being put on coordinating projects with local governments, if possible.

Andrusko said 80 percent of its funding is being funneled to maintaining existing roads and bridges as it tries to find ways to reduce an estimated $18 million funding gap over the next 20 years.

That could create tough times in District 6, an 11-county area in southeastern Minnesota that ranks second in the state for its number of bridges. That higher number pulls more money from road projects, he said. Still, he said, the district proportionately receives a larger share of state dollars.

There will be no MnDOT projects in District 6 in 2018 and 2019, he said, as funding is pulled toward major bridge projects in Winona and Red Wing, he said after the meeting.

He showed a list of District 6 programmed projects totaling over $22 million, to be done after that time. Projects include more I-90 bridge replacements and extension of work now being done on Highway 56.

While commissioners were sympathetic to the funding challenges, the county’s own roads and bridge projects have suffered the same issues.

“Something has got to be done,” said Commissioner Jerry Reinartz. “I think more and more pressure needs to be put on our lawmakers; we (with county funding) can only do so much.”

Andrusko also asked for input on any concerns with MnDOT projects.

Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said he hoped new bridge design allowed better sight clearance as people turned onto the bridges. Some are designed so poorly “you can hardly see the cars coming over; it’s extremely dangerous.” Fellow commissioner Polly Glynn said the height of weeds along the bridge is also dangerous. Andrusko said the MnDOT must handle “a balancing act,” noting the Legislature has passed a buffer strip law that says some species in that habitat needed to be protected. Reinartz wondered if any advances had been made in pavement materials that might reduce cost.

Andrusko said experimental types of road pavement were being tested, and “development research is something we embrace.”

A funding draft will be prepared for public review soon, Andrusko added, and would be finalized by October or November.

Two MnDOT projects remain under way this year in the county: replacement of the bridge over Interstate 90 at 11th Drive Northeast; and a bituminous paving of Minnesota Highway 56, from Taopi to near Interstate 90.

Upcoming Projects, 2020-2021

2020 – Minnesota 16, bituminous paving, from Interstate 90 to Tracy Road in Spring Valley, estimated $5-6 million

2020 – Minnesota 56, bituminous paving, from LeRoy to Maple Street in Taopi, estimated $4.1 million

2021 – Interstate 90, replace bridge over I-90 at 28th Street, $3.5 million

2021 – U.S. Highway 218, rehabilitation of bridges over I-90, $2.8 million

2021 – I-90, rehabilitation of box culverts over Rose Creek, $1.2 million

2021 – Minnesota 105, bituminous paving, from Iowa state line to 11 miles north.