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Top 2017 posts in the battle against potholes

We had some fun writing for this website in 2017. In addition to our  case studies, which detail concrete road projects around the state, the posts ranged from one city’s fight against potholes to the dangers potholes pose for EMTs and paramedics as they race to the hospital.

Here are our Top 5 picks for 2017. Take a look:

1. Worthington battling potholes on two fronts

Like many public works crews across Minnesota, Worthington city crews spend a lot of time filling potholes. Last spring, the Worthington Daily Globe reported that city crews spend a week of non-stop pothole filling to put a Band-Aid on the problem every spring and summer. But that’s not all. In its fight to reduce potholes, the city has begun to pave more streets with concrete. Read more.

2. How a Mustang is like a concrete street

Mustangs are not cheap cars, but they are well built and last a long time. In this blog post, Editor Renee McGivern likens her 2005 investment in a Mustang to city or county’s investments in concrete streets. Like her Mustang, she notes concrete may cost more than asphalt on the front end, but concrete streets are high performing and built to last.  See the post.

3. Infographic makes it easy to see the cost of roads

This infographic compares the initial and “life cycle” costs of asphalt and concrete on a one-mile stretch of road. It includes the projected costs of potholes repairs, as well. The end result is that after 20 years, concrete costs a bit less. By the end of 40 years, the costs of maintaining that road will be fairly even. Check it out.

4. EMTs, paramedics know dangers of potholes

Add emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics to the list of folks who know the dangers of potholes. On the roads, it’s difficult for ambulance drivers – seeking the quickest way possible to an emergency call — to avoid the bumps, let alone pothole-riddled roads. Take a look.

5. Four things to know about colored concrete for your next project

Many city councils face decorating decisions when their city embarks on a downtown streetscape or similar project. One of the most common choices they make is using colored concrete to affordably jazz up plain gray concrete and public spaces. To help cities make a good decision about colored concrete, we interviewed two Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota (ARM) members who explained what you can do to ensure your colored concrete looks great and lasts decades. Here’s what they have to say.

 

Infographic makes it easy to see the cost of roads

In a previous post, we showed a spreadsheet of an analysis of the initial and “life cycle” costs of a one-mile stretch of  road, comparing asphalt and concrete. Creating a visual of the comparison is very helpful, too. Here’s an infographic or visual view of that same spreadsheet. We added an estimate of potholes repairs to this as well. The end result is that after 20 years, concrete costs a bit less. We can predict that by the end of 40 years, the costs of maintaining that road will be fairly even.

  Road cost comparison infographic by reneemcgivern on Scribd

Best 2016 posts about city projects and road repairs

Six-year old Osseo concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes
Six-year old Osseo concrete street.

The evidence is mounting. Minnesotans are spending more than necessary on road repairs and reconstructions because of their cities’ weaknesses in the bidding process.

As the new year approaches, a review of 2016 Bye Bye Potholes posts offers a glimpse at how we reached this point and who is picking up the tab for local road repairs. As important, the posts provide a roadmap of possible solutions.

Cities face their own funding gap

In its report titled “Transportation Funding in Minnesota: A Myth-Busting Fact Sheet,” the League of Minnesota Cities reports that Minnesota’s 853 cities maintain some 19,000 miles of roadway and 84 percent of those municipal streets are ineligible for funds generated by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle registration fees and motor vehicle sales tax. The majority of city road repairs, then, are the responsibility of local property taxpayers. Read the post.

Budgeting and the benefits of life cycle analysis

Transportation funding gaps are just one reason city officials turn to a life cycle cost analysis when bidding out road construction or road repairs. The tool helps them determine whether using asphalt or concrete is the more cost-effective, sustainable investment.

The life cycle cost analysis itself factors in the pavement’s initial cost, as well as the projected maintenance and reconstruction costs over the life of the road. Ultimately, it helps answer the question: Which design alternative – asphalt or concrete – results in the lowest total cost to the agency over the life of the project? Here’s the blog post.

Ready mix concrete producers rarely asked to bid

One of the reasons engineers and city councils say they don’t pave streets with concrete is that it’s too expensive. How do they know? Based on what? Our ready mix concrete members say they rarely get to bid.

This is akin to a city declaring it’s purchasing new Ford trucks because GM trucks are too expensive and yet they never checked GM truck prices.

City councils habitually approve hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenditures a year on asphalt (bituminous) street projects without ever looking at the cost of the alternative: concrete. Read more.

What cities say about their concrete streets

Ask city and county officials or project engineers why they choose concrete for road projects and the answer is frequently the same: It last longer and requires less maintenance.

Here’s what Albert Lea, Gaylord, Hutchinson, Montgomery and Wells had to say when asked about their decision to use concrete rather than bituminous. Read what these cities are saying.

Free concrete design service for cities kicks off

City council members and engineers who want to improve the bidding process for street projects by seeking both asphalt and concrete bids can now tap into the concrete design service ARM offers in partnership with the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.

An asphalt street design can be quite different than a concrete street design. For instance, asphalt typically requires considerably more “base” in the design to hold up this softer pavement.

With a solid design in hand, which includes a life cycle cost analysis, the cities can then ask for and compare asphalt and concrete bids. These help city councils discuss both short-term (asphalt) and long-term (concrete) pavement solutions. We think this is a healthy conversation about how to get the best value for taxpayer dollars. Learn about the design service.

Cities face their own road funding gap

road funding gap | Bye Bye Potholes

Faced with a road funding gap? Well, don’t expect a lot of help from the state. Fact is: Most roads in Minnesota do not qualify for state funding.

In its report titled “Transportation Funding in Minnesota: A Myth-Busting Fact Sheet,” the League of Minnesota Cities reports that Minnesota’s 853 cities maintain some 19,000 miles of roadway and 84 percent of those municipal streets are ineligible for funds generated by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle registration fees and motor vehicle sales tax. The majority of city streets are the responsibility of local property taxpayers.

So now we know the real reason for your town’s road funding gap! It has to be paid for with local revenue.

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.

And like the state, the report notes that these local government entities are experiencing a road funding gap caused by their own aging transportation infrastructure, rising costs for labor and road materials, and inflation. In large part, road maintenance and construction costs have increased 55 percent over the last 20 years.

Delaying needed road repairs and construction also impacts road maintenance. According to the League, “Maintenance costs increase as road systems age, and no city — large or small — is spending enough on roadway capital improvements to maintain a 50-year lifecycle.”

Headlines from around this state confirm the League’s contention. For example, the Rochester Post Bulletin
reported in August that nearly a third of the city’s 467 miles of city streets have reached or surpassed their 50-year life expectancies and are in need of work, according an editorial.

And the city’s annual street budget of $9 million isn’t enough to do the work.

In order to maintain the city’s current streets, Rochester city officials said about 10 miles should be replaced each year, with more being repaired and resurfaced along the way. Ideally, $32 million would be spent each year.

That’s a funding gap of $23 million annually in Rochester alone.

Delaying the needed maintenance work will only increase the price tag of futures repairs. According to the League’s report: For every $1 spent on maintenance, a road authority saves $7 in repairs.

What cities say about their concrete streets

Ask city officials or engineers why they choose concrete streets and the answer of is that they last longer and require less maintenance.

Here’s what a few of them said when asked about their decision to use concrete rather than bituminous.

Albert Lea Lakeview Blvd | Bye Bye Potholes
Photo credit: Deb Flemming

Albert Lea City Engineer Steven Jahnke said the city’s decision to replace concrete with concrete when it rebuilt Lakeview Boulevard wasn’t an issue. Concrete made more sense given the subsoil below the surface near the lake.  Council Member Larry Baker said that the city also factored in the volume and type of traffic when choosing concrete. ”It’s a highly traveled road and we knew concrete would hold up better,” Baker said.

 

 

 

gaylord 4th and Main after
Photo credit: John Cross

Gaylord City Engineer Justin Black, P.E. of Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH), said, “The city was very adamant that the downtown was concrete because it was originally concrete.” The city wanted it to last a long time, and they liked the idea of not having to do a lot of maintenance. Gaylord is unique in that three state highways meet in the heart of the city  — Highways 5, 19 & 22.

 

 

 

HutchAdamsStfall
Photo credit: Doug Hanneman

Hutchinson and McLeod County finished a concrete street project in 2010 involving Washington Avenue E. and Adams Street SE in Hutchinson. McLeod County Engineer John Brunkhorst said he liked the concrete solution best because it is long-term with minimal maintenance. For instance, they won’t have to go back and seal coat the streets every seven years. When interviewed he said they haven’t had to do any fixes or repairs since the concrete was placed. The concrete looks as fresh today as it did six years ago.

 

 

 

Montgomery concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes
Photo credit: John Cross

Montgomery and Le Sueur County chose concrete given the heavy commercial use of the road when they partnered to rebuild a section of 5th Street (CSAH3). Project Engineer Christopher M. Cavett noted that while concrete is more expensive initially, it requires less maintenance and has a longer life span.

 

 

 

Wells Minnesota concrete road | Bye Bye Potholes
Photo courtesy of The City of Wells & Bolton and Menk

Wells replaced concrete with concrete when it rebuilt a half-mile stretch of County State Highway 62 in 2013. Faribault County Engineer Mark Daly said he expects the road to last 40 to 50 years with minimal maintenance required.