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County Board candidates address infrastructure

For the third article of the Herald’s question and answer series between Mower County Board of Commissioners – District 1 candidates Tim Duren and John Mueller, we asked the candidates the following question: How should the county address its current infrastructure needs, particularly maintaining county roads and bridges?

Here are their responses.

Tim Duren

Tim Duren

Repairing and replacing our infrastructure is an ongoing need much like other items the board addresses. The infrastructure needs are identified and the board works within the limitations of the budget to complete the work identified.    

here are over 400 miles of roads and over 300 bridges in Mower County. The county engineer prioritizes the work to be done and in keeping with the budget, the timing of the projects is determined. In attending the monthly county board of commissioners meetings, I have listened to conversations that focus on safety and the best interests of our county residents. I agree that keeping up with maintenance of our present infrastructure is a priority and that repairs need to be made in a timely manner so replacement doesn’t become prematurely necessary.

Much like our own personal needs and budgets, not all the work that needs to be done can be completed at once. Sources of funding change over time and often lag behind what is required. This is what we have seen happen with aid from the state government which has necessitated the board to examine other resources to help maintain our roads and bridges. There are a number of taxes that have been put into place to help overcome the deficit including the gas tax, the county ½ percent transit sales and use tax, and the wheelage tax which applies at the time of motor vehicle registration. While raising taxes is not taken lightly nor an option that is desirable, it is sometimes unavoidable to accomplish what is necessary for the community.

Maintaining our infrastructure to the safest standards will always be a work in progress. Your board works in the best interest of you, its constituents. If elected as your county commissioner, I will listen to your concerns, answer your questions and find creative ways to work as a member of the board to solve the infrastructure needs.

John Mueller

John Mueller

The safety of our motoring public is of paramount importance and I believe the staff at the Mower County Highway Department takes that responsibility seriously. Well maintained roads and bridges are essential to motorists as well as our producers of agricultural and manufactured goods and of course our emergency responders.

The Mower County Highway Department is responsible for the maintenance of 405 miles of county roads, 375 of which are blacktopped, and 369 bridges. This includes basically all the bridges in the county except those on State, US, or Interstate roads. Roads and bridges are designed and built to withstand specific maximum weights and with that, they have an estimated life expectancy. As roads wear, some quicker than others, they may need to be seal coated a time or two, but eventually will need to be replaced. The Highway Department schedules the maintenance and eventual replacement of blacktop roads. They also maintain the estimated 30 miles of gravel county roads.

Maintenance of the roads is determined by a combination of factors, including age of the road, the load rating for the road, traffic count and type of vehicles, seal coating schedule, road scans for smoothness and visual inspections.

Bridges are also the responsibility of the Highway Department. The Minnesota Department of Transportation provides inspection services on all the bridges in Mower County. If degradation or deficiencies are found, the County has to evaluate the information and determine if repair or replacement is needed.

In 2020, the Highway Department performed 16 miles of road construction, replaced one county bridge and seven township bridges. In 2021, it is planned and budgeted to do just over 22 miles of road construction and replace four county bridges and seven township bridges. It is worth noting that most of us think of a bridge as having a deck and rails and pylons, but many of those are able to be replaced with large box culverts to allow water to flow freely under a road. From my experience when I was on the Red Rock Township Board, I know the county works with townships to schedule bridge replacements and the township is responsible for the costs of the bridge approaches.

So specifically to the question, how should the county address it’s infrastructure needs, particularly maintaining county roads and bridges? As you can see, there is a lot that goes into construction and maintenance of Mower County roads and bridges. As a new commissioner, I would be interested in learning more about the process, decisions, and costs that go into that process. I would also stay in tune with the needs of residents and farmers and businesses to make sure the infrastructure is in place to have safe roads and functional routes in Mower County. I am hoping that on April 13 the voters of District 1 give me the opportunity to do just that.

For the first and second question and answer articles, see the March 13, 2021, and March 20, 2021, editions of the Austin Daily Herald.