Category In the News

Minnesota counties are converting paved roads back to gravel roads

Courtesy of MinnPost/Freeborn County

One way to cut road maintenance costs is to convert deteriorating paved roads back to gravel roads. It seems unthinkable, but is it?

As roads paved decades ago deteriorate and road maintenance budgets stagnate, unpaving looks like an increasingly economical — if initially unpopular — option, according to a recent MinnPost article by Greta Kaul.

The practice of converting paved roads to unpaved is relatively widespread nationwide. Citing a 2016 report by National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board, Kaul reported that at least seven Minnesota counties have converted paved roads back to gravel roads. And more are considering the prospect.

Counties, townships maintain majority of roads

Overall, elected officials in Minnesota are responsible for more than 135,000 miles of city, county, townships and state roads. While much attention is focused on state roads, they account for less than 10 percent of all roads in the state. Counties maintain about 45,000 miles of road and townships maintain another 60,000 miles.

Nationwide, the report found nearly 70 projects in 27 states that unpaved 550 miles of road. And that has researchers developing a guide to help local officials decide when it’s safe and cost-effective to unpave roads.

For now, economics are driving the decisions. When Freeborn County officials decided to unpave what was once a two-mile stretch of asphalt on County State Aid Road 49, there wasn’t money in the budget to fix the pavement.

No engineer wants to unpave a road, Freeborn County Engineer Sue Miller told MinnPost. It’s more than a reduction in the level of service to everyone who uses the road.

With the cost of adding gravel and grading, Miller said, it’s often more expensive in the long-term. The difference is when the money is spent.  Gravel doesn’t require the same kind of up-front investment that building or doing a big maintenance project on asphalt does.

Duluth mayor takes on potholes, bad streets

Looks like Duluth found a way to fix its potholes and bad streets. In November, voters approved a plan to increase their sales tax by a half percent for up to 25 years. The increased tax should generate about $7 million a year to fix the streets.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson spearheaded the effort.

In a recent Star Tribune story by reporter Pam Louwagie, Larson said, “This is not a perfect solution … but this was the plan that felt like the most equitable one to me.”

Voters approved the sales-tax hike by a two-thirds margin.

Just halfway through her first term as mayor, Larson has tackled some tough issues: mending a rift with a nearby tribe over casino revenue sharing, attempting to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by buying into a solar garden and supporting plans to extend paid sick time and family leave to all city government employees.

And, supporters and opponents alike see her as a rising star.

“She’s a young woman and she is just getting started politically,” said Don Ness, a friend and former Duluth mayor. “The sky is the limit in terms of her potential.”

Her next test: The Minnesota Legislature. Lawmakers need to ratify the sales-tax hike approved by voters to fix the city’s bad streets.

To learn more about Larson’s sales-tax-for-streets idea, how she got into politics and what lies ahead, read Louwagie’s full story.


How paint is like a good concrete road

One-coat painted concrete | Bye Bye Potholes

While helping a friend repaint several rooms in her house recently, I found myself comparing the paint to a good concrete road. You see, I had plenty of time to think about how picking the right product makes a difference in the end result –- whether you’re talking about a home improvement project or building a road.

At first glance, this paint project appeared daunting. My friend wanted to transform her deep brown walls with a light grey paint. We also needed to repaint her son’s red bedroom walls and the blue walls downstairs. Wherever I turned, it looked like a two-coat job to me.

“Nope,” she said. “The paint I bought is supposed to cover the old paint in one coat.” Sure enough, she was right. We managed to get the job done with one coat of paint. And given the quality of the paint she bought, I’m betting it will last a long time.

Less work and less money in the long run

Kind of like a good concrete road. She was willing to pay more for the paint on the front end, knowing that in the end, it was more cost-effective and definitely less labor intensive.

Had she picked a less expensive paint, we’d have needed at least two coats to cover the old paint. And, she’d be repainting a few years down the road.

But not this gal. She’d done her homework. She knew that the type of paint finish you pick can extend the life of the paint itself. She chose an eggshell finish.

In its Paint Buying Guide, Consumer Reports called the stain resistance of the paint she chose “impressive.” Unlike a flat finish, the eggshell finish should wash up nicely and won’t look dirty or worn out for quite some time.

Strength and durability matter – whether you’re talking about paint for your house or a road in your city. The paint we applied won’t last 50-plus years like a good concrete road, but clearly, my friend purchased paint with a sheen to last.

Next time you talk with members of your city council, ask what they’re doing to ensure that your roads are both cost-effective and built to last.


Are potholes bad for your car? They sure can be

Hitting a bump in the road is one thing, but hitting a pothole is another. Just ask your local mechanic who will be more than happy to explain why potholes are bad for your car.

Hitting a baby pothole isn’t likely to cause much damage, but the bigger ones can take a big bite out of your checkbook. Either way, if you take a hit be sure to check for damage.

5 car parts to check for damage

1. Tires are the first place to check.  You might be able to fix a flat tire, but tires with bulges and separations need to be replaced.

2. Wheels. If you hit a pothole, check to see if the wheels have been bent, chipped or cracked. You might be able to fix a bent wheel, but you won’t be so lucky if the wheels are chipped or cracked.

3. Suspension systems include your of springs, shock absorbers, tie rod, drive shafts and ball joints that connect a vehicle to its wheels. Suspensions bent out of joint can usually be realigned. Broken ball joints, struts or shocks need to be replaced.

4. Exhaust pipes run along the bottom of your car and are likely targets for pothole damages. Check your muffler and exhaust pipes for holes.

5. Body. The lower your car sits to the ground the greater the chance that hitting a pothole will cause damage to the body, especially the bumpers.

Granted, most potholes aren’t big or deep enough to damage your car. But some potholes are bad for your car and will likely cause damage to the tune of $300 or more.  And even if you have insurance you can expect some out of pocket costs.  Read more. 

Six advantages of a concrete road

Summer roadwork with its detours and traffic jams test even the most patient of drivers. But if you’re lucky enough to be slowed by the construction of a new concrete roadway, this summer’s delay should be the last you’ll experience for some time. Durability is one of the many advantages of a concrete road.

Here are six advantages of a concrete road.

1. Durability. Concrete is less prone to rutting, cracking and other common forms of road damage, including potholes. That’s right, no potholes. In fact, when you factor in annual maintenance, concrete pavement can cost four to seven times less to maintain than asphalt.

2. Life expectancy. A concrete road built today should last 40- to- 50 years compared to a new, well built, asphalt road with a life expectancy of 15-20 years. Again, that means fewer traffic delays and while it may cost more to build initially, it means lower costs over the life of the road. Read more.

3. Safety. According to the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota (CPAM), concrete provides better and longer lasting skid resistance. It also provides better visibility on rainy nights. Both results in fewer accidents and that’s good news for all motorists.

Other advantages of a concrete road

4. Smoother, long-lasting ride. That means less fuel consumption. Statistics show that heavier trucks, running over a concrete road, consume 15-20 percent less fuel than that on asphalt roads. That’s not only cost-effective, but it’s one of the many environmentally friendly aspects of concrete.

5. Recyclable. Concrete is produced from abundantly available limestone. On the other hand, asphalt is produced from imported petroleum.

6. Aesthetics. Concrete is easier on the eyes. Its clean appearance brightens neighborhoods and downtown areas, both day and night. In addition, concrete can be colored and textured to produce attractive designs and patterns.