Category In the News

Legislature slows Duluth plan to fix the city’s streets

Not so fast, Duluth.

Despite voter approval, state lawmakers failed to ratify a ½-percent sales tax in the Duluth to fix the city’s streets. The city projected generating $7 million annually through the local sales tax hike.

All that was needed to impose the tax was a ‘thumbs up’ from the Legislature. The plan required no state money.

Duluth mayor disheartened

Reacting to the legislative inaction, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson who spearheaded the sales-tax-for-streets idea told the Duluth News Tribune she was disheartened. “It’s frustrating to have such a clear message sent by the electorate and to not have that honored.”

She’s not the only one disappointed.

The News Tribune Editorial Board called the Legislative inaction “a massive failure.”  The Star Tribune Editorial Board warned that the legislative inaction “will fuel a growing sense among Minnesota local governments that state government is no longer a reliable partner.” 

This issue isn’t dead. Larson intends to bring her city’s request to authorize the voter-approved local sales tax back to the Legislature in 2019.

And, don’t count her out. As reported in an earlier Bye Bye Potholes blog post, Don Ness, a friend and former mayor, said earlier this year: “She’s a young woman and she’s just getting started. The sky’s the limit.”


Sunset Street project in Albert Lea includes new sidewalk

PHOTO CREDIT: City of Albert Lea

The City of Albert Lea completed a $1.74 million concrete street and utility reconstruction project on Sunset Street from Highway 13 to Lakeview Boulevard in 2017. The upgrade included replacing the street itself, curb and gutter and the aging infrastructure under the street.

City officials estimated the age of the water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines to be between 80- and 90-years-old.

To provide walkers a safer way to access Fountain Lake, the city also installed a 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk on the north side of the street. That required narrowing the street and shifting it within the existing street right of way. The completed 34-foot-wide street also included two 12-foot-wide driving lanes and one, 8-foot parking lane on the south side of the street and a 2- foot buffer on the north side of the street.

Subsoil impacted selection of concrete

Like the nearby Lakeview Boulevard street project completed two years earlier, City Engineer Steven Jahnke said concrete was chosen because of the poor subsoil.

Most of the Sunset Street project $1.74 million costs were paid with Municipal State Aid Street funds. The city assessed property owners along the route $324,000. The city contributed $190,000 from its sanitary sewer enterprise fund and $284,000 from its water enterprise fund.

Project Dates:

June 2017 – October 2017

Project details

  • Total cost: $1.74 million; with construction costs totaling about $1.48 million
  • Concrete depth: 8 inches on 8 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base and 12 inches of Class 3 select granular sub base
  • Total project length: 0.4 miles
  • Total Concrete Placed: 2,039 CY (1,614 CY for the street, 290 CY for curb and gutter and 135 CY for the sidewalk.)


Owner: City of Albert Lea

Project Engineers: Bolton & Menk, Mankato

Prime Contractor: Quam Construction, Willmar

Concrete contractor: Hoffman Concrete, Mankato

Concrete Supplier: Croell, Inc, Albert Lea

Download the Case Study.

Newspaper column weighs pros and cons of concrete roads

Newspaper column | Bye Bye Potholes.

The Spring Grove Herald editor in southeast Minnesota wrote a thoughtful newspaper column this month. It weighs the pros and cons of paving with concrete. The editor challenged local leaders to look at the whole picture when it comes to road construction projects. Concrete paving was placed on Fillmore County Road 1 in 2016 between Spring Valley and the Olmsted County line.

The newspaper column tapped into the case studies and facts on this Bye Bye Potholes website. We appreciate that he grasped that an investment in concrete is an investment for decades. And it eliminates the possibility of potholes.

Here’s an excerpt from that column and a jump over to the complete Spring Grove Herald column.

County highway should have smooth ride for decades

Before construction started in 2016 on Fillmore County Road 1 — Fillmore County’s busiest county state aid highway when it isn’t closed for road work — traveling that stretch of highway from Spring Valley to the Olmsted County line was rough, to put it mildly. The potholes had become so numerous that many people feared for the health of their vehicles and even their own health as they traveled the 12 miles of county highway.

However, potholes on that highway will be a thing of the past as Fillmore County is paving the road with concrete. It’s not the first Fillmore County highway to transition from the typical asphalt to concrete, but it is still rare for local roads to have a concrete surface.

The main reason for the lack of concrete thoroughfares is expense — at least upfront expense. As the potholes surface again this spring now that the snow and constant freezing is nearing an end, it is worth examining whether local governments are considering the whole picture when it comes to road construction.

New asphalt is cheaper than concrete, but asphalt roads can break down into potholes within three years on one extreme while new Minnesota concrete pavement designs are expected to last as long as 60 years with minimal maintenance on the other extreme. . . .

Read the rest of the column by David Phillips.

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.