Category Observations

EMTs, paramedics know dangers of potholes

Ambulance, pothole damage

Add emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics to the list of folks who know the dangers of potholes.

“Potholes jar everything in the back of the truck and can hinder patient care,” said Brandee Lynn Ockwig, an EMT and volunteer firefighter from Waseca.

Driving and working full-time for an ambulance service in southern Minnesota for 12 years, she knows the perils of potholes first-hand.

“Putting something in an intravenous line or working on the patient is hard enough to do in good conditions, but when you put in the unknown – like a pothole – that’s a challenge.”

In addition to providing basic life support, such as first aid and CPR, EMTs and paramedics perform a wide range of medical procedures while transporting someone to the hospital. They often insert IVs or administer a limited list of medications, such as those used to treat pain or a severe allergic reaction or to save someone suffering a drug overdose. They can also inform the hospital of your condition before arriving at the emergency room.

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.

An ambulance ride can be uncomfortable

According to Minnesota’s Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board, distances for ground-based ambulance services vary from 2 miles in a metro area to as many as 70 miles in northern Minnesota. The average carry distance is 20 miles statewide.

“Potholes are worse than driving on gravel roads and can come out of nowhere, especially at night,” she said.

“You learn which roads are really bad, and you try to give your partner a heads up when you have to swerve or brake, but that doesn’t make it any easier for your passenger,” she said.

It also doesn’t make it any easier on the rig itself. Many ambulances return to the station with bent rims, flat tires, and broken suspensions. It all adds to the cost of operating the ambulance service and, ultimately, your trip to the emergency room.

Effective partners offer concrete, asphalt certification classes

asphalt certification class | Bye Bye Potholes

Public works employees throughout Minnesota rely on a unique private-public partnership to deliver concrete and asphalt certification classes so they can work on road construction projects within their geographic boundaries. And they’ve done so for nearly 30 years now.

In the 1990s, the federal government mandated that all states implement quality assurance programs.

To date, more than 10,000 public and private sector employees who work with aggregate, bituminous and concrete materials have participated in Minnesota’s state training program. Cities from south to north and everywhere in between have enrolled their public works employees and engineers in the state’s Technical Certification Program.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT) partners with the Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota (ARM) and Lake Superior College in Duluth to implement and deliver its required technical certification training.

“It’s a great program and it continues to grow,” said Fred Corrigan, ARM’s executive director. “We used to train from December to March but demand has required us to add courses in April and May.”

This past year, the program trained, certified or re-certified roughly 1,300 aggregate and concrete personnel. Another 1,700 were trained and certified annually in bituminous road materials and construction.

John Micheau, MnDOT’s technical certification specialist, said the certification program is designed primarily for personnel already working in road construction, although seasonal workers may obtain provisional certification in some cases.

Partnership with industry provides hands-on concrete and asphalt certification

One feature that makes Minnesota’s training and certification program somewhat unique is the partnership with the industry, said Corrigan. “We mix textbooks with hands-on training by instructors who have actually worked in the field.”

Students can bring real situations or problems to class and the instructors have hands-on experience to address them.

Testing also reflects the hands-on approach. Students take both a written exam and a hands-on test in a lab setting.

Dan Frentress, ARM’s Technical Certification Education Coordinator, has been teaching these classes since 2002. He holds a BS degree in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Before joining ARM, Frentress worked for Scott County, Iowa as a project engineer, and later was the executive director of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota. He started his own consulting firm in 2002 specializing in training and research of concrete pavements.

“The key to the certification program is industry involvement,” said Frentress.

Minnesota’s program teaches to both the national and state certification requirements. Private sector work, like the new Vikings stadium, requires national certification. Most public sector work requires state certification.

The concrete and asphalt certification programs also take into account Minnesota’s climate. For example, in Minnesota, testing to ensure that concrete has both the proper amount of air and that the air is properly distributed throughout the concrete is critical. As Frentress noted, the right amount of air correctly distributed helps ensure that the concrete doesn’t crack or heave during the winter’s freeze-thaw cycles.

MnDOT’s Micheau said the certification program helps ensure uniformity in testing across the state and of the testing of materials used on the job site.

Concrete and asphalt certification courses moving online

Demand for classes has been steady the past five years, according to Micheau. Training generally occurs January through April. ARM adds more classes in the spring and summer based on demand.

Also, MnDOT created an online concrete recertification course in 2013. Its online learning module provides an alternative to the eight-hour, classroom based recertification training. It also allows MnDOT personnel, city and county staff and others to recertify without incurring travel costs and lost work time.

The project to move the certification course online was funded by the Local Road Research Board. MnDOT is working to offer all of its recertification courses online.

Concrete and asphalt plants must be certified each year. And students, once certified, must be re-certified every five years.

MnDOT’s seven certification areas are: Aggregate Production, Bituminous Plant, Bituminous Street, Bridge Construction, Concrete Field, Concrete Plant, Grading & Base Concrete Strength Testing. There are two levels of certification for each.

  • Level 1, referred to as a “tester” or “field tester” level. This level is for individuals with limited responsibility who normally work under the direction of a supervisor. Often, materials testing and/or sampling is the sole duty of a Level 1 technician.
  • Level 2, referred to as the “inspector” level. This is an advanced certification for individuals in a decision-making role, such as project supervision or oversight.

Registration for the MnDOT/ARM technical certification classes begins annually on Oct. 1, the same day the 2017-18 class schedule is published.

There seems to be a trend for paving with concrete. Read Minnesota cities are choosing concrete.

For complete course descriptions, go to the ARM website.


How a Mustang is like a concrete street

Ford mustang | Bye Bye Potholes

In 2005, Ford Motors introduced a retro-looking Mustang. It just so happened at the time that 1) I needed to replace a car that was in the repair shop too often, and 2) I had a heckuva lot of fun driving my dad’s Mustang when I was in high school.

Mustangs are not cheap cars (about the price of Ford Fusion today), but they are well built and last a long time. Having been nickeled and dimed to death by recent cars, I decided to invest the $22,000 and buy a red Mustang. It was the smartest money I ever spent.

It’s 2017 and 12 years later. The car has 205,000 miles on it and still get compliments. I haven’t replaced the brakes or radiator. The engine is still in great condition, although it overheated a couple years ago requiring an unexpected $250 repair. I replaced the original muffler last year, and only because my son backed into something. This Mustang and its parts were engineered to last.

During all these years, instead of being nickeled and dimed on repairs and disrupted a lot, I have been able to put the money toward the other car’s repairs, home improvements, or even vacations.

This is a life lesson on paying a bit more up front for long-lasting performance. What a hassle-free life this car has given me.

So how’s a Mustang like a concrete street?

My investment in my Mustang is like your city or county’s investment in a concrete street. You might pay more on the front end than you would for asphalt, but concrete streets are high-performing and built to last.

The annual operating budget will be free of the regular patching, seal coating and pothole repairs that come with an asphalt street. Drivers will be free of detours and road construction. And taxpayers won’t have to buy a new street 15 to 20 years later.

Concrete paving just sits there until the 20 to 25-year mark when minor repairs will be required. And then it will just sit there for another 20 years or more. You’ll get at least 40 years of disruption-free (patching and pothole-free) life for that original payment.

Don’t take my word for it. See what city engineers have to say about this.

I’ve been assured by my mechanics that the Mustang has another 100,000 miles to go, so I’ll likely get 20 years out of this car. Local public engineers who place concrete streets can assure residents that those roads will last at least 40 years.

Pretty smart use of my money and taxpayer money, yes?



Comparing cost of roads like comparing toilet paper

cost of roads | Bye Bye Potholes

When it comes to the cost of roads, Minnesota’s tax dollars might get far better mileage if elected officials relied on everyday cost comparison skills.

Take shopping for toilet paper as an example.

How do you compare the price of toilet paper when the number of rolls per package differs, but also, you’re choosing from one-ply, two-ply or three-ply sheets?

The Consumer Reports’ Toilet Paper Buying Guide recommends using the number of square feet per package to compare costs. The price per square foot can range from 13 cents to 43 cents per square foot.

The Buying Guide also notes that people often use fewer sheets of toilet paper with multi-ply rolls than with single-ply ones. Considering how long a roll will last is as important as comparing the initial cost.

Savvy shoppers figure out that paying for the least expensive, single-ply toilet paper on the front end may not be the most cost-effective in the long run.

Consumer common sense applies to judging cost of roads

Like the square-foot measure for toilet paper, let’s use a one-mile stretch of new road construction. And like analyzing how long a roll of toilet paper will last with one-ply or multi-ply sheets, let’s explore how long a road will last when choosing between asphalt or concrete paving.

We’ll use an example of an actual county project for a one-mile stretch of road where the bid for asphalt is $363,000.

A county can expect to spend another $152,500 to maintain the asphalt pavement over the first 20 years of the road’s life, based on a county engineer’s projection.

Let’s compare that to the projection for that one-mile stretch of concrete road. The initial bid is $453,000, and the county can expect to spend $40,000 in the first 20 years. In the end, the cost of the concrete road is $22,500 less than the asphalt road.

Want to see this comparison visually? Check out this infographic.

It sounds familiar: When comparing the costs of roads, taxpayers and their elected officials may find that the least expensive option on the front end isn’t the most cost effective in the long run.

Wondering how road engineers do a cost analysis? They use a pavement design software, called StreetPave. Most county and consulting engineers have this software. It takes about 30 minutes to produce a cost analysis for road projects comparing asphalt and concrete’s initial and maintenance costs over the life of those roads.

Managing local gravel mines as community assets

We write about streets a lot in this blog. Whether they’re paved with asphalt or concrete, all streets need aggregates as a base. Crushed stone, sand and gravel – aggregates – are essential to every road we drive on, home we live in, and building we enter. Below is an article we wrote for Minnesota Cities, the magazine of the League of Minnesota Cities. It’s a good backgrounder about a vital natural resource.

Elk River, Mankato manage local gravel mines as community assets

When Minnesotans think of our wonderful natural resources, it’s not likely that stone, sand and gravel come to mind. But our lack of appreciation for aggregates makes them no less beneficial than our lakes or prairies. They are the foundation for every road, bridge and building we encounter and our resulting quality of life.

What are cities doing to effectively manage this precious resource? How are they balancing the needs of aggregate producers and the community? Let’s look at a couple cities for insight about the successful oversight and reclamation of what most of us simply call “gravel pits.”

Elk River’s gravel district

If you’ve ever driven along Highway 169 near Elk River, then you’ve passed through one of the largest gravel mining areas in Minnesota. The city of Elk River manages this 2,600-acre gravel “district” and works with eight aggregate producers who mine there.

““Gravel mining has been going on here for decades and we see it as an asset,” said Kristin Mroz, the city’s environmental technician. “There’s a friendliness in the community toward it because people have grown up with it.”

Each of the aggregate producers has a unique conditional use permit (CUP) that addresses specific community concerns like the hours they can mine and haul gravel, blasting restrictions, what section is being mined, and so on.

Open Communication

“We expect them to communicate about any new level of activity, environmental contamination, and any changes they want for their CUP,” said Mroz. “We also like to know what they’re working on so we get a connection between our material and a nearby project.”

In fact, the most effective way to balance mining needs and citizen concerns is through the CUP annual review process, according to one of the aggregate producers.

“Residents can be there to ask questions and we can sometimes adjust the conditions to meet changing needs,” said Ron Klinker, environmental and land development manager for Knife River Corporation – North Central. “We care very much about being good neighbors.”

Gravel mine turned park

A different gravel mine scenario is playing out in Blue Earth County. It shows how long-standing relationships between a county, city and aggregate producer can open the door to a tremendous community asset.

Early in 2015, representatives from Southern Minnesota Construction (SMC), approached the county and city about buying two properties it owned. The land has sweeping views, ponds, a mining-made lake and lots of wildlife. It could become the area’s largest natural resource park, they said.

“The two dormant gravel pits and surrounding land offer a lot of possibilities for a recreation area,” said Terry Overn, SMC aggregate permit agent. “I’ve already seen our employees kayaking in the summer and ice fishing in the winter on the lake.”

The county and the city could not buy or develop the land when the idea first came up in the 1990s. Overn never forgot those conversations as SMC’s mining operations ended, and it began reclaiming the land. Some 20 years later, he brought up the idea again. This time, Blue Earth County and the city of Mankato were ready.

Mankato envisions a park for generations

This new regional park is about three miles southwest of Mankato’s city limits. Despite that, the city wants to be a part of creating the park for generations of local residents. It wants to keep a close eye on the ponds and lake within the park, too.

“Our interest is not only the fact that it’s right outside the city, but the surface waters are directly linked to our aquifer,” said Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel. “It’s important to ensure the municipal water supply is protected.”

By August 1, Blue Earth County and the city of Mankato will approve plans to purchase, develop and manage the properties. SMC offered to sell the land at a discounted $225,000. The Department of Natural Resources assisted with writing an Outdoor Recreation Grant proposal to offset some of the cost. It’s likely that the county and city will spend just under $100,000 each.

“It was our hope for years that our land would become this wonderful natural resource park for the people of Blue Earth County,” said Terry Overn of SMC. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how this is all turning out.”

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Reprinted with permission from Minnesota Cities, a publication of the League of Minnesota Cities, copyright 2016.