Minneapolis reconstructs 29th Street as shared use street

Mpls 29th Street paving | Bye Bye Potholes

The City of Minneapolis is turning 29th Street South in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood into a curb-free, shared use street. This two-block stretch in Minnesota’s largest city had never been paved. It was made of dirt and oil, riddled with potholes, and had the reputation of being the worst street in the city.

A unique feature of this project is how the city partnered with Sara Udvig, a local artist, to construct and install “Rules of Play,” a featured of colored concrete on the sidewalk. It fits this eclectic, vibrant area about eight miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis.

Shared use street a new idea in the U.S.

The city completed the first phase of its 29th Street reconstruction project from Lyndale Avenue to Bryant Avenue in 2016. Tree and sodding were done this spring with reconstruction from Fremont Avenue South to Emerson Avenue South. Work from Dupont Avenue to Bryant Avenue South is scheduled for 2020.

A shared use street allows for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles at the same time, and it is a rare model in the United States. There are similar shared streets in Seattle, and Cambridge, Mass.

The new concrete 29th Street is wide enough to allow for two-way traffic, parking bays on the north side of the street, and event spaces, green spaces and a sidewalk on the south side.

Minneapolis Engineer Tracy Lindgren said the city chose colored concrete with textured grooving to help sight-impaired walkers delineate the space between the sidewalk and the street. As part of the reconstruction, the city updated the storm sewer, and CenterPoint Energy relocated a gas main.

Removing contaminated soil an added project challenge

The city hauled out and disposed of 1,690 tons of soil that was contaminated years ago by petroleum-based products. The area abuts the partially below-grade Midtown Greenway railroad trail now used by pedestrians and bicyclists for recreation and to commute to work.

The aggregate base used in this road project is recycled concrete from other road projects from around town. The city stores the used concrete and hires a contractor to crush it annually. The city then stockpiles the recycled concrete to use for future projects.

The shared street project’s total cost was about $1 million. The majority was paid by the City of Minneapolis using net debt bonds (municipal bonds) with the balance paid by special assessments to the adjacent property owners.

Project Dates:

June 2016-September 2016

Project details

  • Concrete depth: 8 inches with 6 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base
  • Total project length: .12 miles
  • Total concrete placed: 501.25 CY, including concrete used for pavement, curb, gutter, event area and sidewalk


Owner: City of Minneapolis

Project Lead: City of Minneapolis (Project Engineer Tracy Lindgren and Planner Don Pflaum)

Project Designer: WSB & Associates (Ann Wallenmeyer and Peter Muehlbach), Minneapolis

Prime Contractor: City of Minneapolis Public Works Department – Paving Construction

Concrete contractor: City of Minneapolis Public Works Department – Paving Construction

 Ready Mix Concrete Producer: Cemstone, Burnsville, MN

Scroll through more case studies on this website. Check out other 2017 street projects the city is working on.

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 or full depth 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?



Minnesota cities are choosing concrete pavement

More and more Minnesota cities are choosing concrete pavement, especially for streets that lots of residents and trucks drive on, or that need sprucing up after a reconstruction project. You can find case studies about them by selecting “Cities in action” in the Categories box to the right.

A number of the cities collaborated with their county or the Minnesota Department of Transportation who brought considerable concrete expertise to the project.

Some cities are crazy for concrete. Cottage Grove, for instance, is paving its sixth and seventh all-concrete roundabouts this summer. The Wells city council just plain prefers it because the streets last 40 years.

Here’s a little video showing the concrete streets of cities of various sizes that we’ve written about over the past couple of years.

If they can pave with concrete, why can’t your city?

Mankato multi-lane roundabouts reduce crashes near busy mall

Mankato roundabouts | Bye Bye Potholes

The City of Mankato, Minn., Blue Earth County, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation pulled together in 2014 to construct roundabouts to reduce crashes near a busy shopping mall. The need for action was imperative: Between 2011 and 2013, the Highway 22 intersections at Adams Street and Madison Avenue in Mankato had the highest crash rating in MnDOT District 7.  

Studies recommended roundabouts at the two intersections to improve safety and decrease traffic delays. Flashing yellow-left-turn arrow signals and sidewalk improvements also were recommended.

The intersections were built simultaneously in 2014 within a very condensed time frame.  Construction started on June 9 and the project opened for traffic on August 25; despite a significant rain delay the third week of June, the project was completed ahead of schedule. “High early” concrete was used in all of the paving to expedite construction. 

MnDOT partnered with the City of Mankato and Blue Earth County to schedule the construction detours to have as a little disruption to business and residents as possible. They also had to factor in the increased traffic due to the Minnesota Vikings training camp and the late summer return of thousands of college students to the area.

Project details

• 8,350 cubic yards of concrete pavement
• 54,100 square feet of concrete sidewalks
• 10,700 lineal feet of curb and gutter


Owner: MnDOT
Design engineer: TKDA
General contractor: Mathiowetz Construction, Sleepy Eye
Concrete contractor:  Hoffman Concrete, Inc., Mankato
Ready Mix Supplier: Cemstone, Mankato

Download Mankato 2014 Highway 22 roundabouts.

Road reconstruction in Moorhead designed for future expansion

Moorhead, Minn. concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

The City of Moorhead completed the road reconstruction of 20th Street South from Sixth Avenue South to 12th Avenue South in 2012. The arterial road reconstruction project, which was funded in large part with federal transportation funds, also included reconstruction of a bike path that runs parallel to the street.

Road Reconstruction Project Description

The newly reconstructed concrete road replaced a deteriorating bituminous pavement, originally laid in 1964. The street had received two bituminous overlays, the first in 1980 and the second in 1989. Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge said the city’s decision to use concrete dates back to 2002 when it began reconstructing other segments of 20th Street. The road’s traffic volume exceeds 10,000 vehicles per day and carries heavy truck traffic; US Highway 10 is to the north and I-94 is to the south. The city wanted a surface that wouldn’t rut and one that required less maintenance.

“Concrete requires less attention over time and will last longer,” Trowbridge said. The bike path also was reconstructed with concrete to minimize maintenance and the need to seal coat.

Project Engineer Josh Olson of Apex Engineering Group, said the road is designed for future expansion. The roadway is constructed to handle four lanes of traffic. It’s now striped for one northbound lane of traffic and one southbound lane with a center turning lane.

To ensure that the road reconstruction was completed over the summer, Trowbridge said the city closed the road to all traffic for the duration of the project. To accommodate residents of an apartment complex that only had access from 20th Street South, the city provided temporary access off a nearby street, constructing a temporary driveway through the city park abutting the project.

The project’s total cost was about $1.2 million. Nearly $990,000, was paid with federal funds administered through the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Property owners, including the city, were assessed $195,000. The remaining balance was funded by the city through bonding.

Project Dates

June 2012-August 2012

Project Details

  • Concrete depth: 8 inches with 9 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base and 12 inches of select granular borrow
  • Total project length: .4 miles
  • Total concrete placed: 8,250 CY, including concrete used for pavement, curb, gutter and bike path


Owner: City of Moorhead

Project Lead: City of Moorhead (Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge)

Project Designer: Apex Engineering Group (Josh Olson, PE), Fargo, ND

Prime Contractor: Paras Contracting Inc., Fargo

Concrete contractor: Paras Contracting Inc., Fargo

Ready Mix Concrete Producer: Strata Corporation, West Fargo, and Knife River Materials, Fargo.

Download the Moorhead Case Study.

Minneapolis’ King’s Highway called ‘street of potholes’

Marianne Carolan was driving along Dupont Avenue S. in Minneapolis when she swerved to avoid a puddle and hit a pothole, causing more than $1,000 in damage to her car.

“The last puddle happened to be a pothole, but I couldn’t tell because they all look the same,” she said.

More than 40 signs dot the lawns along Dupont, also known as King’s Highway, where neighbors say they are fed up with the deteriorating street. The signs call out the “Street of 10,000 potholes” and urge people to contact the Park Board, which is responsible for the street’s upkeep.

The Park Board admits the project, originally scheduled for 2015, has been pushed back. And because the project is bigger than anticipated, it’s been split in two — northern section this year, southern section maybe in 2018. Ultimately, it comes down to money, said Cliff Swenson, the Park Board’s director of design and project management.

“The only reason for delay is we just don’t have enough money,” Swenson said. “We’re behind across the system.”

The estimated cost of repairing King’s Highway is $1.6 million. The Park Board has $700,000 of the $800,000 needed for the first phase, which will involve full repavement.

Read more in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Worthington paper wins Bye Bye Pothole headline contest

Daily Globe Editor Ryan McGaughey, right, wrote the winning headline for Reporter Karl Evers-Hillstrom’s story about Worthington’s battle with potholes.

In April, we ran a Bye Bye pothole headline contest for Minnesota newspapers. The winner of the contest is Worthington Daily Globe Editor Ryan McGaughey for his headline: “Gone to pot: City wages war on plentiful potholes.”

McGaughey, who will share the $100 winnings with his newsroom, combined an idiom with a bit of alliteration to draw readers into Reporter Karl Evers-Hillstrom’s story. It’s about the city’s annual task of filling potholes and how the city determines whether to use asphalt or concrete when building or reconstructing its road.

‘Catchy headline’

Of McGaughey’s headline, the Bye Bye Potholes contest judges wrote: ”Catchy headline. It’s simple, accurate and direct, and contains many of the critical elements of a good headline: active voice, present tense and strong verb.”

That’s good news for Evers-Hillstrom and readers of the Daily Globe given research that shows the public consumes news through headlines. According to the Washington Post, a study by the Media Insight Project found that six in 10 U.S. readers say they only read the headlines.  Others are often drawn into the story with the headline.

And as any editor knows a good headline begins with a good story. So how did Evers-Hillstrom approach the story?

“We have some really brutal potholes here. I saw them everywhere when driving to work,” said the 23-year-old reporter. Aside from the contest, it was curiosity that had me go after the story, he said.

Evers-Hillstrom researched how potholes form and read case studies, statistics and research posted on Bye Bye Potholes, He then interviewed Worthington’s administrator, engineer and public works director. He asked about the potholes and the city’s use of asphalt and concrete. He also reviewed asphalt versus concrete cost comparisons for a city road project.

With that information in hand, he said, he drove around town to see which roads were concrete and which were asphalt, and he compared the condition of those road surfaces.

“I like to take an idea for a story and go more in-depth with it,” said Evers-Hillstrom, adding that he wanted the story to be more than the typical story about filling potholes.

Evers-Hillstrom covers city government and economic development for the Worthington Daily Globe. McGaughey has served as the newspaper’s editor since 2006.

St. Paul’s Jackson Street features elevated bike lanes

elevated bike lanes

Jackson Street in downtown St. Paul now features new concrete pavement, underground utilities and bituminous elevated bike lanes that connect the city’s downtown bike loop with the Sam Morgan Regional Trail.

Touted as the first of their kind in the United States and inspired by the Netherlands, the new two-way bike lanes are elevated to the sidewalk level and separated from the roadway itself.

Jackson Street had carried two lanes of one-way traffic and allowed for two lanes of on-street parking prior to reconstruction. The new design takes half of the parking and turns it into a curb-protected bike lane.

The Jackson Street bike route will be extended to University Avenue this summer, where it will connect to the Gateway State Trail.

Project description

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper, the Capital City Bikeway master plan envisions future segments of the elevated bike lanes running along Kellogg Boulevard from Jackson Street to John Ireland Boulevard and along St. Peter Street from Kellogg to John Ireland.

Between Jackson and St. Peter, the northern leg of the bikeway will run along 9th and 10th streets, jutting across the freeway and through the Minnesota History Center parking lot.

The reconstruction of Jackson Street from Shepard Road to 11th street replaces a deteriorating 50-year-old concrete road, its sidewalks and the sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water lines below. The project also includes new landscaping, streetlights and traffic signals.

The first phase of the project, from Shepard Road to Seventh Place, was completed in 2016. The second phase, from Seventh Place to 11th street began in March of 2017 and is expected to be completed this fall.

Assistant City Engineer Kevin Nelson said the city selected concrete for the project because of the roadway’s heavy bus and truck traffic and the product’s durability. To minimize disruption to the businesses and traffic flow and to maintain access to parking ramps, the city kept one lane of the cross streets open throughout the reconstruction.

The construction project’s total cost (engineering and inspection included) is projected to be $16.5 million. The City of St. Paul financing sources are: 8-80 Special Bonds, sewer fund, water utility funds, TIF funds, direct property assessments.

Project Dates

Phase One: May 2016-October 2016
Phase Two: Work began in March 2017

Project details for Phase 1

• Concrete depth: 8.5 inches with 6 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base
• Total project length: .65 miles
• Total concrete placed: 6,200 CY, including concrete used for pavement, curb, gutter and sidewalks
• Total asphalt placed: 400 Tons or (200 CY) for bike lanes


Owner: City of St. Paul. MN
Project Lead: City of St. Paul, MN (Assistant City Engineer, Kevin Nelson)
Project Designers: Toole Design Group, Minneapolis, MN  and Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH), St. Paul, MN
Prime Contractor: Veit & Company, Rogers, MN
Concrete contractor: Hovland, Inc., Duluth, MN
Ready Mix Concrete Producer: Cemstone, St. Paul, MN
Asphalt Contractor: Bituminous Roadways, Inc, Mendota Heights, MN

Download the Case Study.

Worthington battling potholes on two fronts

repairing potholes | Bye Bye Potholes

Like so many other cities across Minnesota, Worthington city crews are spending a lot of time these days filling potholes.

The Worthington Daily Globe recently reported that city crews spend a week of non-stop pothole filling to put a Band-Aid on the problem every spring and summer.

Minnesota’s climate provides the perfect incubator for potholes. Water from rain or melting snow seeps through the cracks in the asphalt road. When that freezes, the water expands, weakening the pavement above. Add the weight of cars and trucks driving over the weakened pavement and voila – you have a pothole.

Just how big those potholes will get depends on how much water seeps below the surface and how many times it freezes and thaws over the winter months.

But Worthington’s battle against potholes isn’t limited to filling them. In its fight to reduce potholes, the City has been paving more streets with concrete.

City Engineer Dwayne Haffield told the Daily Globe that for a long time cities paved residential streets with asphalt because it cost considerably less than concrete. But as asphalt prices rose, cities began to factor in the cost of maintaining asphalt when determining whether to use asphalt of concrete.

Makes sense.

One of the benefits of paving with concrete is that it lasts longer than asphalt. It also requires less maintenance and repair. In part, because potholes don’t form in concrete, according to the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota.





Competitive bids lower cost of road in Lyon County

Seeking both asphalt and concrete bids can reduce road construction costs.

Competitive bids are designed to bring costs down. And that’s just what happened when Lyon County officials agreed to allow both asphalt and concrete contractors to bid on a recent road project.

Plans for County Road 10 included about 5 miles of new construction and 5 miles of surface overlay. Unsure about whether to pave with asphalt or concrete, commissioners opted to seek competitive bids from both asphalt and concrete contractors. The winners: Lyon County taxpayers.

The project’s cost was projected to be about $2.4 million for asphalt pavement, and about $4.2 million for concrete. Adjusting for maintenance costs over the road’s expected 50-year life span, County Engineer Aaron VanMoer told commissioners they could expect “a wash,’” according to a news report in the Marshall Independent.

VanMoer was right. When the bids were in and adjusted to include maintenance costs of the life of the road, the bids were very close — about $4.1 million for asphalt and about $4.3 million for concrete.

Commissioners opted to pave with asphalt.

The concrete industry itself acknowledges that its product often has a higher initial cost than asphalt, but points to life cycle cost analyses to show that concrete generally has a longer useful service life and less maintenance costs over the life of the project.

According to a 2012 American Public Works Association report, allowing both asphalt and concrete materials in the bidding process often leads to reduced costs.

That’s what happened in Lyon County. By requiring bids from both asphalt and concrete contractors, the cost of the project came down. As important, when factoring in the cost of maintenance, Lyon County commissioners were able to make an evidence-based decision, rather than relying on individual preference.

When it comes to building roads, public officials should get bids from both asphalt and concrete contractors. Once the bids are in, those bids should be adjusted to include the cost of maintaining the road for 40 to 50 years. Then, and only then, can taxpayers be assured they are getting the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to the cost of building and maintaining their roads.


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

How paying for roads can be like paying for 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 when making road decisions.

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.

The same common sense applies when it comes to considering the 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.

5 things to consider for your next street pavement project

Discussing street projects | Bye Bye Potholes

Cities looking to make the best decision about street pavement and whether to place asphalt or concrete often seek advice from their staff and professional engineers.

Here are five things to consider when trying to stretch taxpayers’ dollars as far as they can go for projects.

1. Are we truly seeking competitive bids – ones that allow both asphalt and concrete contractors to bid on the same product? This will require an alternative design component.

Competitive bidding in and of itself should stimulate competition and result in better overall pricing for street pavement – especially when one factors in maintenance costs over the life expectancy of the road. By giving both asphalt and concrete contractors a shot at the work, Minnesotans can expect a higher return on their investment.

2. If cost is cited as a factor in providing the alternative design component, ask if they aware of the free design service the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota offers  through  a partnership with the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.

Cities using this service should plan for a two-week turnaround for parking lot projects and up to a three-week turnaround for streets. Projects are handled on a first-come, first-served basis.

3. What is the initial cost of using asphalt vs. concrete compared to the long-term costs, factoring in maintenance and reconstruction costs over the life of the road?

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation reports that requiring a life cycle cost analysis is one way for city officials to make evidence-based decisions on road projects, rather than relying on their individual preferences.

4. What kind of maintenance budget will be required to keep the street pavement in good repair once constructed? Cities with tight operating budgets may want to consider spending a little more for concrete on the front end using their capital funds, thereby reducing the amount of maintenance required when constructing with asphalt.

Delaying needed road repairs and construction also impacts road maintenance and the bottom line. According to a 2015 report by the League of Minnesota Cities about transportation funding, “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 life cycle.”

(A caveat: Cities like Minneapolis and Owatonna have concrete streets that have lasted 50 years and more. The League is referring to asphalt paving.)

5. And don’t forget to ask about the infrastructure below the streets. The age of the water, sewer and storm sewer lines under the street may impact your decision to reconstruct with asphalt or concrete. Many cities, like Albert Lea and Gaylord, choose concrete when replacing decades-old infrastructure as part of the reconstruction project.

Be prepared for media questions on potholes

Being prepared for interviews can help shape the stories.

How much does your city spend filling potholes each year? Does your city track the number of potholes it repairs each year? Why or why not? And if you’re tracking the number of potholes, how much does the city spend repairing each pothole on average?

These are just a few of the questions city officials can expect this spring when the ground thaws and Minnesota reporters begin writing stories about the latest crop of potholes.

Anticipating what a reporter may want to know it the first step in being prepared to answer a call from your local reporter. An interview can be a real opportunity for you to help shape the story, to present the facts you believe relevant to those who will read the story and to help educate the reporter about the topic.

Here are five tips to help you prepare and work more effectively with reporters.

When a reporter calls

  • Ask what information the reporter is looking for, who else they are speaking with and what angle they see the story taking. If you need time to get the information the reporter is seeking, let the reporter know that. Find out what kind of deadline the reporter is working with and make an appointment to call the reporter back with the requested information.
  • Become a resource. News reporters are rarely experts in the subject matter they are asking about. You know your field much better than they do, and you can help shape the story by offering thorough explanations with supporting background information. Don’t hesitate to emphasize the information you believe will help the reporter tell the story.
  • Feel free to verify the reporter’s understanding or what you’ve said to make sure that no information was misinterpreted. Avoiding jargon and acronyms will help the reporter tell the story in layman’s terms.
  • Be honest. If you don’t know something the reporter asks, don’t guess. Stay in your zone of expertise. If there is someone else more qualified to answer the question direct the reporter to that person.
  • Never speak off the record. Always assume that everything you say – before, during and after the interview — will be reported. Avoid responding with a “no comment.” Simply responding with a “no comment” sounds suspicious. If you really can’t comment, explain why.

Following these simple guidelines will go a long way toward helping the reporter write an accurate story.



Cities investing in anti-icing gear for winter roads

De-icing roads | Bye Bye Potholes

Woodbury wants to make its golf course environmentally friendly by reusing rain from ponds to keep the fairways green, rather than sucking up underground supplies needed for the kitchen tap.

But the city is finding it can’t always do that until well into the spring. That’s because, after the city has spent the winter flinging salt onto the roads, the water is too briny for the grass.

So Woodbury is buying more sophisticated anti-icing gear, hoping to prevent what it warns could otherwise happen: a tripling of the cost of household drinking water because of the need to remove salt.

“We have seen elevated chlorine even in deep aquifers,” said Brooke Asleson, metro watershed project manager for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, or MPCA. “That’s not a health issue, but taste matters. If peoples’ water gets salty, they are not going to be happy.”

Road salt causing increasing brininess in drinking water

A 2015 study showed that chloride concentrations in Frost Belt streams doubled from 1990 to 2011, posing threats to aquatic life. As the brininess of our water rises, Minnesota state officials are devising ways to show local street maintenance crews how what they do now can affect the environment later.

Hundreds of local jurisdictions are taking part in an online exercise that rates what’s going on out there now on a scale from “poor” to “advanced.”

Read more in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Best 2016 posts about city projects and road repairs

Six-year old Osseo concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

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.

Blue Earth brightens downtown with Main Street reconstruction

Main Street reconstruction | Bye Bye Potholes

The City of Blue Earth paved the way for an enhanced downtown shopping district when it completed its Main Street reconstruction project last fall. Complementing the new concrete road, the city opted to retain its angled parking and use exposed aggregate crosswalks and colored concrete pavers to dress up Main Street between 5th and 7th Streets, and on 6th Street from Main to Nicollet. The project included full reconstruction of the underground utilities, street surfacing, sidewalks and street lighting.

Project Description

The rebuilt concrete road replaced a deteriorating concrete road and the sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water lines below; all are estimated to be at least 60 years old. The Main Street reconstruction project had been in the planning stages for nearly a decade. City Engineer Wes Brown of Bolton & Menk said the city selected concrete for the project because of its durability and because the roads adjacent to the newly constructed road are also constructed with concrete.

Unique to this project: The city obtained a variance from the state to retain the angled parking in front of the storefronts. The exposed aggregate crosswalks used 100 percent crushed quartzite to achieve the aesthetics desired. And recycled concrete from the original street pavement was used in the roadway’s sub base.

Brown also said the Main Street reconstruction project was completed in three stages to minimize disruption to the businesses and traffic flow. The sidewalks were also kept open to pedestrian traffic until the final three days of the project when the new cement sidewalks were poured.

The project’s total cost was $2.3 million. Faribault County paid $1.03 million from its County State Aid Account, which is funded in part by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle fees and motor vehicle sales tax. Blue Earth paid about $836,000 ($143,000 from its sewer fund, $356,000 from its water fund and $337,000 from its street fund. Property owners were assessed $289,999 and Blue Earth Light and Water kicked in $133,000 to cover the cost of new streetlights.

Project Dates

May 2016-October 2016

Project details

• Concrete depth: 7 inches with 6 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base and 12 inches of select granular borrow
• Total project length: .156 miles
• Total Concrete Placed: 2,084 CY, including concrete used for pavement, curb, gutter and sidewalks


Owner: City of Blue Earth and Faribault County
Project Lead: City of Blue Earth (City Engineer Wes Brown of Bolton & Menk)
Project Designers: Bolton & Menk, Fairmont, MN
Prime Contractor: Holtmeier Construction, Mankato, MN
Concrete contractor: Nielsen Concrete, Kasota, MN
Ready Mix Concrete Producer: Cemstone, Wells, MN
Quartzite Supplier: Siouxstone Quarry, Jeffers, MN

Download the case study.

Cottage Grove just built its 5th concrete roundabout

Cottage Grove Roundabout | Bye Bye Potholes

Cottage Grove loves its concrete roundabouts. In 2006, it was the first city in the state to build a concrete roundabout. Today, this growing community of just over 35,000 residents located 10 miles southeast of St. Paul is home to five all-concrete roundabouts, with two more planned for 2017.

Project description

In the summer of 2016, the fifth roundabout was built at the intersection of 70th Street (County Highway 22) and Jamaica Avenue, a joint project of the city and Washington County. Like another roundabout constructed this year at 95th and Hadley, the city chose concrete for the project.

“Concrete is in our blood. It’s our standard design (for roundabouts),” said Community Development Director and City Engineer Jennifer Levitt, citing concrete’s durability and performance.

With asphalt, she said, the turning movements of traffic cause rutting and require more maintenance. Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg agreed, saying there is less shoving and heaving in concrete roundabouts than those constructed with asphalt.

Unique to the 70th Street and Jamaica Avenue roundabout project was the county’s desire to keep east-west traffic moving during construction, according to Project Engineer Dave Sanocki of Stantec. For this to happen, a bypass lane was constructed on the north side of the intersection. Improvements to 70th Street and Jamaica Avenue, from Indian Boulevard to Military Road, were also part of this project. This included storm improvements and a water main service extension.

The project’s total cost was $3.25 million. Cottage Grove’s portion was about $1.8 million.The county paid about $1.45 million. Approximately $1.7 million was paid with Municipal State Aid, which is funded in part by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle fees and motor vehicle sales tax. Finally, property owners who benefited from the water and storm sewer extension were accessed $48,000.

The 70th Street and Jamaica Avenue roundabout was designed and constructed to accommodate projected population growth and the expected increase in traffic volume. By changing the markings in the concrete and striping within the roundabout, it can easily be expanded from a 1-by-2 roundabout to a 2-by-2 roundabout, allowing for two lanes of traffic throughout the roundabout. No additional construction or concrete will be needed.

Project Dates

May 2016-October 2016

Project details

• Concrete depth: 7.5 inches with 6 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base (100% crushed rock) and 24 inches of select granular borrow (clean sand)
• Total project length: 1.6 miles
• Total Concrete Placed: 4,020 CY for the roundabout, including concrete used for curb and gutter, sidewalks


Owner: City of Cottage Grove and Washington County
Project Lead: City of Cottage Grove (City Engineer Jennifer Levitt)
Project Designer: Dave Sanocki, Stantec, St. Paul, MN
Prime Contractor: Hardrives, Inc., Rogers, MN
Concrete contractor: Stapf Concrete Construction
Ready Mix Concrete Producer: Dakota Aggregates, Rosemount, MN

Download the case study.

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 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 a few of them had to say 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 reconstructed Lakeview Boulevard wasn’t an issue given the subsoil below the surface of the roadway near the lake. Council Member Larry Baker agreed, adding that the city also factored in the volume and type of traffic when selecting the construction material. ”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… It was originally concrete, they wanted it to last a long time, and they also liked the idea of not having to do a lot of maintenance.” Gaylord is unique in that three state highways come together in the heart of the city  — Highways 5, 19 & 22.




Photo credit: Doug Hanneman

Hutchinson and McLeod County completed a concrete street reconstruction 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 in the project’s Feasibility Report 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 reconstructed 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.

The learning curve behind the modern roundabout

roundabouts | bye bye potholes

Roundabouts eliminate the left-hand turn – and the car crashes that go with them. Roundabouts also force drivers to slow down, leaving them – and pedestrians – more time to react and make a decision, reducing the number of crashes. Since speeds are slower in and near a roundabout and only right turns are allowed, the severity of crashes is usually reduced to side swipes with only fender-bender damage.

Case in point: the roundabout at the crossing of Highway 75 and Sixtieth Avenue South in Moorhead. Prior to the roundabout, the formerly two-way stop was a site for several fatalities. From 2005 until October 2011, there were two deaths, two possible injuries and one non-incapacitating injury. The Minnesota Department of Transportation deemed the intersection one of the most dangerous in the state and determined a roundabout was a fitting solution. In October 2011, a roundabout was installed. Since October 2011, only two possible injuries have occurred.

And that’s just one example.

According to a study performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a study of 23 intersections converted to roundabouts shows a decrease in total crashes by 39 percent, a decrease in injury crashes of 76 percent, and a dramatic 89 percent decrease in fatal crashes.

Read more from Moore Engineering.

Osseo’s concrete streetscape stands test of time

Six-year old Osseo concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

Concrete aficionados surely smile when driving through downtown Osseo. A concrete streetscape including streets, curb and gutter, and pavers provide a perfect foundation for the historic downtown.

Nearly 10 years ago, Osseo city officials looked at reconstruction of Central Avenue between County Road 81 and County Road 30. Two years later, the Council approved the $4.8 project to replace its aging bituminous road with a concrete one and to provide a major facelift to the city’s streetscape. The 2008-2009 makeover also included new curb and gutter and new water and storm sewer lines.

At the time, Project Manager Sarah Rippke of Bolton & Menk told the council that the costs for concrete rather than bituminous added about 12 percent to the bottom line. Still, concrete was recommended in the project’s feasibility study because of its longer life expectancy and because it requires less maintenance.

The estimated life of the concrete pavement is 40 to 50 years.

Anticipating redevelopment activity in the downtown area, the new streetscape, designed by Hoisington Koegler Group, Inc., included concrete pavers to allow portions of the sidewalk to be removed and stored during redevelopment and then reinstalled at the end of construction with no adverse impact to the streetscape investment.

The streetscape also included LED street lighting technology, which is designed to last 16-plus years with little or no maintenance and has provided the city $10,000 in annual energy savings. Read more about that here.

Osseo’s road and streetscape project was paid for with city funds and special assessments to the adjacent property owners, which was controversial. Although the road itself is a major north-south corridor in the northwest metro area, handling up to 15,000 vehicles per day, it is not a municipal or county state-aid road and did not qualify for state funds.

Since completion, some joint maintenance work has been required. In November 2011, when the city announced that it had made its final payment to the contractor, it noted that any construction flaws, like chipped curb and cracked concrete, could be repaired under warranty for up to two years.

2015 photo by Bill Jones.
2015 photo by Bill Jones.

Concrete Streetscape Project recognized by architects and engineers

The concrete streetscape project received much-deserved recognition after it was completed.

  • The Osseo Central Avenue Streetscape Project, designed by the Hoisington Koegler Group, received the 2012 Merit Award by the American Society of Landscape Architects, Minnesota.
  • The Osseo Central Avenue Reconstruction Project, designed by Bolton & Menk, received the 2010 Project of the Year Award from the City Engineers Association of Minnesota (CEAM).

Clearly, the Osseo’s downtown makeover wasn’t without controversy, but it appears to be standing the test of time.

Five things to do to ensure a successful concrete street project

Bye Bye Potholes | concrete flatwork

We know cities can be a bit nervous about placing a concrete street, especially if the engineer and public works folks have only worked with asphalt. Here’s a handy list of considerations to ensure a successful concrete street project.

  1. Rely on a professional
    Have your street designed by an engineer with experience. If it is not properly designed or if it’s over-designed, it will increase your costs. Learn more about our free design service for cities.
  2. Look for Minnesota experience
    Refer to the Minnesota Concrete Flatwork Specification because it specifically deals with city streets, sidewalks, curb and gutter, and driveways. It was written to provide consistency from city to city for these “flatwork” projects. Specifications from outside our state may not factor in our climate or what might be unique about our aggregates.
  3. Hire a contractor with concrete experience
    Concrete can last for decades with little maintenance especially if you use a contractor with plenty of concrete paving experience. It’s a very different material than bituminous.
  4. Check out whether people are certified
    Find out if the contractor’s personnel and the concrete producer are certified through the American Concrete Institute (ACI). The Aggregate & Ready Mix Association sponsors ACI certification training programs. Learn more here.
  5. Buy aggregates and concrete from an association member
    Choose a company that stays on top of industry trends and changing regulations through a membership in the Aggregate & Ready Mix Association or Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota. These members provide quality materials and know how to make your flatwork projects succeed.

Budgeting and benefits of life cycle cost analysis

bye bye potholes | life cycle analysis

Rochester is struggling to find a way to fix its streets; so is Hackensack. They are just two among the hundreds of cities in Minnesota discussing their 2017 city budgets.

  • Nearly a third of Rochester’s 467 miles of city streets have reached or surpassed their 50-year life expectancies and are in need of work, according an editorial in the Post Bulletin. And the city’s annual street budget of $9 million isn’t enough to do the work.
  • Hackensack is turning to the USDA in hopes of securing a grant to replace its aging cast iron water mains and lines that lie below a street the county plans to rebuild.

Transportation funding gaps are just one reason city officials turn to completing a life cycle cost analysis when bidding out road construction or repair projects. 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?

As the Georgia Public Policy Foundation reported the tool is seen as a way for city officials to make evidence-based decisions on road projects, rather than relying on their individual preferences.

Ultimately, allowing alternative standards for asphalt and concrete materials in the bidding process can often lead to reduced cost and an increase in a projects’ sustainability rating, according to a 2012 American Public Works Association report.

City of Wells replaces concrete with concrete rather than resurface road

Wells Minnesota concrete road | Bye Bye Potholes

Project Description

The City of Wells and Faribault County completed a $1.64 million street and utility reconstruction project on County State Aid Highway 62 in September 2013.

Wells City Engineer Travis Winter of Bolton & Menk, Inc., said the city decided to reconstruct with concrete because of needed infrastructure work (water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer replacement) below the roadway. Wells has historically preferred concrete streets, Winter said, citing concrete’s longer life expectancy.

Faribault County Engineer Mark Daly said he expects the reconstructed concrete road to last 40 to 50 years with minimal maintenance required. Daly also said given soil conditions in Southern Minnesota (great for crops, but not so great for roads), concrete can be a cost-effective alternative to bituminous.

The project’s total cost was $1.64 million. Faribault County paid about $1.2 million from its Municipal State Aid Account, which is funded in part by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle fees and motor vehicle sales tax. The city’s paid about $620,000 from its sewer and water funds.

Project Dates

May 2013-September 2013

Project details

  • Concrete depth: 7 inches with 6 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base
  • Total project length: .5 miles
  • Total Concrete Placed: 2,533 CY for the reconstructed roadway, plus concrete used for curb and gutter 


Owner: City of Wells and Faribault County

Project Designers: Bolton & Menk, Inc., Fairmont

Prime Contractor: GM Contracting Inc., Lake Crystal

Concrete contractor:  Hoffman Concrete, Mankato

Ready Mix Concrete Producer: Cemstone, Wells

Download the case study.

Elk River Finds Way to Pay for Smoother Roads

City of Elk River | Bye Bye Potholes

By Andrew Tellijon for League of Minnesota Cities Magazine, July-Aug 2016

Mayor John Dietz has served about 20 years as a council member and then mayor for the City of Elk River. During that span, his least favorite part of the job has been adding assessments to residents’ property taxes for road projects near their homes.

But he also thought that was the fairest approach to ensuring that people paid their share for the wear and tear on the roads. And that didn’t change right away when City Engineer Justin Femrite and other city staff in 2012 proposed switching from assessments to monthly, pay-as-you-go franchise fees collected from citizens as part of their gas and electric bills.

“When he first presented [the franchise fee option], I was a little skeptical,” Dietz says. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘Can we really generate enough money from this to do the road projects we need to do?’ I was skeptical we could generate enough funds without having a tremendously high fee.”

But Femrite and his colleagues worked through the numbers. They proposed charging each customer $5 on their electric bill and $4 on their gas bill each month. Businesses pay higher rates. The funds are dedicated specifically to maximizing the lifespan of the city’s streets through maintenance and rehabilitation.

“They convinced the Council that this could work,” Dietz says. “Justin convinced the Council to do this, and he deserves the credit.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Albert Lea reconstructs Lakeview Blvd, widens sidewalk

Albert Lea Lakeview Blvd | Bye Bye Potholes

Project description

The City of Albert Lea completed a $2.9 million street and utility reconstruction project on Lakeview Boulevard from Abbott Street to Wedge Street in 2015.  The upgrade included replacing the roadway itself, which was originally constructed in the 1970s, as well as the infrastructure (water and sewer lines estimated to be between 75- and 100-years-old) under the street and widening a shared-use sidewalk abutting Fountain Lake along the route from five feet to eight feet.

City Engineer Steven Jahnke said replacing the aging concrete with concrete wasn’t an issue given the subsoil below the surface of the roadway near the lake. Council member Larry Baker said the city also factored in the volume and type of traffic when selecting the construction material. ”It’s a highly traveled road and we knew concrete would hold up better,” Baker said.

Most of the project costs ($1.6 million) were paid with federal funds. However, as a Municipal State Aid Street, the project also qualified for state funds ($380,000), generated in part by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax and vehicle registration fees. Property owners along the route were assessed $172,000 and the city covered the remaining $715,000 ($376,000 from its road funds, $178,000 from its sewer fund and  $161,000 from its water fund).

Of Note: The city used decorative concrete to spruce up a railed bridge along the project route to complement another bridge located near the project that had been reconstructed in 2006 with decorative concrete.

Project dates

June 2015 – November 2015

Project details

  • Total cost: $2.9 million; concrete-related costs of about $2.7 million, including pavement, curb and sidewalk
  • Concrete depth: 8 inches with dowels with 4 inches of Class 5 Aggregate sub base and 12 inches of Class 3 material sub base
  • Total project length: 0.64 miles
  • Total Concrete Placed: 2,851 CY for the reconstructed roadway, curb and gutter and sidewalk


Owner: City of Albert Lea

Project Engineers: WSB & Associates, Rochester

Prime Contractor: Ulland Brothers Inc.

Concrete contractor:  Hoffman Concrete, Mankato

Ready mix producer: Cemstone, Albert Lea

For further information read the case study.

Free concrete street design service for cities kicks off

Engineers | Bye Bye Potholes

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.

What would it hurt to take a look at concrete as a viable option for your next street or parking lot project?

What to know about this design service

  1. Plan for a two-week turnaround for parking lot projects and up to a three-week turnaround for streets. Projects are handled on a first-come, first-served basis.
  2. We use concrete engineers on our staff and with the Design Assistance Program (DAP) of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.
  3. We need, at a minimum, geotechnical information about the site. Visiting your project site often is not necessary. We can send you a form that lays out what information we would like in order to provide you a competitive design.
  4. Yes, it’s free.

Contact Renee McGivern at 952-707-1250 with questions and to initiate the design process.

It takes most Minnesotans 22 minutes to commute to work

Mileage to work | Bye Bye Potholes

A few years ago, The Twin Cities Daily Planet reported that about 75 percent of Minnesotans drive to work.  And according to the US Census Bureau, like most Americans, the average Minnesotan spends about 22 minutes getting to work each day.

Sampling of commute times by town

• Pipestone   16.5 minutes    • Thief River Falls   14 minutes      • Winona   14.0 minutes     • Rochester   15.6 minutes
• Mankato   15.1 minutes      • Grand Marais   16.5 minutes      • St. Cloud   19.2 minutes      • St. Louis Park   20 minutes
• Lakeville   26.6 minutes      • Mendota Heights   21.2 minutes

Overall, the average time Americans spend driving to work average of 24.3 minutes, which mean we now spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work, according to a recently updated report by the Census Bureau. That’s more than the average two weeks of vacation time (80 hours) taken by many workers during a year.

Add the return trip and workers sped 200 hours annually at a cost of nearly $2,600 — or about $10 per day — on their daily commutes, according to Citi’s ThankYou Premier Commuter Index

MnDOT and ARM offer concrete, asphalt certification classes

training class | Bye Bye Potholes

Public works employees from cities and counties throughout Minnesota rely on a unique private-public partnership to deliver the technical training that allows them to work on road construction projects within their geographic boundaries.  And they’ve been doing so for nearly 30 years now.

In the 1990s, the federal government mandated all states to implement quality assurance programs to ensure that roads funded by federal tax money are constructed with quality materials and properly maintained.

To date, more than 10,000 public and private sector employees who work with aggregate, bituminous and concrete materials have participated in the training and certification program. In the past few years alone, cities from the state’s southernmost regions – including the cities of Marshall and Rochester — to the northernmost points of the state – including the cities of Thief River Falls and Duluth, have enrolled their public works employees and engineers in the state’s Technical Certification Program.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is responsible for the program and now 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 add courses in April and May.” This past year, roughly 1,300 aggregate and concrete personnel were trained and certified, or re-certified through the classes. Another 1,300 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 training

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.”

That’s one of the things students like about our classes, he said. “They can bring real situations or problems to class and the instructors have hand-on experience to address them. It’s what distinguishes ours from most other states.”

Corrigan also noted that the hands-on approach is also reflected in the testing. Students take both a written exam and a hands-on test in a lab setting.

“They really get energized in these classes.”

Dan Frentress, ARM’s Technical Certification Education Coordination, has been teaching these classes since 2002. His background in the industry is extensive and exemplifies that kinds of experience Corrigan said the program is noted for; 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, was the executive director of the Concrete Paving Association. He started his own consulting firm in 2002 specializing in training and research of concrete pavements.

“Industry involvement in the program is key,” said Frentress. Minnesota’s program teaches to both the national and state certification requirements, he said, explaining that national certification is required for private sector work, like the new Vikings stadium, while the state certification is required for most public sector work.

As noted in the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHA) Tech Brief: Effective Quality Assurance for Concrete Paving Operations: “Construction of concrete pavements is complex and the service life of the pavement is dependent on many factors. The process of building concrete pavement is as critical as the materials that go into it. Therefore we need to measure the right properties at the right time and often watch the process as well to be assured that the quality is indeed ‘good enough.’ “http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/concrete/pubs/hif16002.pdf

When it comes to bituminous materials, another Federal Highway Administration publication titled “HMA Mixed Pavement Type Selection Guide” notes that Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) pavements constitute a large part of our nation’s surfaced roads and serve a multitude of traffic and environment conditions .Therefore, the report adds, there is recognition in the transportation field that attention must be given to better guidance on mixes designed to meet specific needs.”

So whether working with asphalt or concrete and the aggregate materials used to form them, students are trained tackles these issues head-on in Minnesota’s certification program.

Minnesota’s climate is also factored into the certification program. 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.

As demand grows, online learning class added

Demand for classes has been steady the past five years, according to Micheau. Training generally occurs January through April, although classes have been added in May the past few years to handle demand.  An online, or E-module, concrete recertification course was also added in 2013.

The E-Learning module provides an alternative to the eight-hour, classroom based recertification training and 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.

At the time, Micheau said city and county engineers wanted to avoid sending personnel to a one-day class that could involve traveling long distances and staying overnight in a hotel. He estimated that between 150 and 200 people would take advantage of the new course offerings each year and that MnDOT is working to offer all of its recertification courses online.

Concrete and asphalt plants are required to be certified annually, and the students themselves, once certified, must be re-certified every five years.

According to MnDOT’s 2016 Technical Certification Handbook, there are two levels of certification in its seven certification areas (Aggregate Production, Bituminous Plant, Bituminous Street, Bridge Construction, Concrete Field, Concrete Plant, Grading & Base Concrete Strength Testing):

  • 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; is an advanced certification for individuals in a decision-making role, such as project supervision or oversight. Chief Inspectors, Mix Designers, etc., require Level 2 certification.

Registration for the MnDOT/ARM technical certification classes begins annually on Oct. 1st, the same day the 2016-17 class schedule is published.

For complete course descriptions, go the ARM website.


5 ways cities keep residents informed about street projects

traffic jam | Bye Bye Potholes

By Laura Stoneburner, Moore Engineering, Inc.

Strong communication to residents about city street projects is key to minimizing the disruption to their day. A system should be in place to disseminate information to keep traffic flows moving during any project. Here are a few ways to keep your city informed throughout a project:

Project blog and/or city website
This platform allows you to proactively publish information about activities any time of day, any day of the week – and you have complete control over it. It’s a great way to publish regular status updates. Here you can also dig into details on how the activity will affect pedestrian and vehicle routes and what is planned for the near future.

Blogs can be hosted on your own website or on an entirely new site. See an example of updates we do for one of our clients, the City of West Fargo, at www.westfargostreets.com. This website has proven useful to city officials and residents because it’s updated at least weekly and captures critical resident information on several projects, all in one location.

Social Media
We all have the power of a media tycoon with social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the rest. Facebook and its nearly 1.6 billion users (65 percent of whom check it daily) are seeking information. When people in your community see an opportunity to “follow” something that affects them, most of them will. Use social media platforms to communicate progress on projects, post photos or share videos to a willing, interested audience. It’s also a great way monitor and chime in on online conversations and answer questions.

News Releases
When appropriate for a mass media audience, distribute information via releases to the media – TV, radio, newspapers, etc. These should typically be reserved for somewhat major street and sidewalk closures and detour routes.

Continue reading this article at Moore Engineering Inc.

Op ed: Engineers Should Not Design Streets

concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

By Charles Marohn in Strong Towns blog

Last Friday I was participating in the 5th Annual Mayor’s Bike Ride in Duluth following a week spent sharing the Strong Towns message on the Iron Range. The friendly woman riding next to me asked me what could be done to to better educate engineers so they would start to build streets that were about more than simply about moving cars. My answer rejected the premise of the question: We should not be asking engineers to design streets.

Roads vs Streets

A quick review for those of you that are new here (which might be up to half the audience — amazing). Roads and streets are two separate things. The function of a road is to connect productive places. You can think of a road as a refinement of the railroad — a road on rails — where people board in one place, depart in another and there is a high speed connection between the two.

In contrast, the function of a street is to serve as a platform for building wealth. On a street, we’re attempting to grow the complex ecosystem that produces community wealth. In these environments, people (outside of their automobile) are the indicator species of success. So, in short, with a street we’re trying to create environments where humans, and human interaction, flourish.


Engineers are well-suited to constructing roads. Road environments are quite simple and, thus, lend themselves well to things like design manuals and uniform guidelines. There are only so many variables and the relationship they have to each other is fairly straightforward. In the United States, we have tested, refined and codified an engineering approach to roads that is pretty amazing and, in terms of engineering, the envy of the world.

There are two primary variables for designing a road: design speed and projected traffic volume. From those two numbers, we can derive the number of lanes, lane width, shoulder width, the width of clear zones and the allowable horizontal and vertical curvature. From those factors, we can specify all the pavement markings and signage that are necessary. We can then monitor things like the Level of Service, the 85th percentile speed and traffic counts to optimize how the road functions over time. Engineers are really good at this.


Engineers are not good at building streets nor, I would argue, can the typical engineer readily become good at it. Streets that produce wealth for a community are complex environments. They do not lend themselves well to rote standards or even design guidelines. There are numerous variables at play that interact with each other, forming feedback loops and changing in ways that are impossible to predict.

Consider just one variable: the future of the adjacent land. The operative component of building wealth on a street is building. Who owns the property? What are they going to do with it? What is their capacity? Will they stick with it? Will they find the love of their life and move across the country? Each property has a near infinite set of complexities to it that change and respond to change, each of which is far more important to the wealth capacity of the street than, for example, lane width.

Designing Streets for People

f1If we’re trying to create an ecosystem that results in our indicator species (people) showing up in greater and greater numbers, we can’t just focus on one or two variables. It can’t be just design speed and volume. The natural ecosystem equivalent would be an observation that productive forests have trees and so we hire our forest engineers to go out and plant rows and rows of the optimum tree. It’s obvious that, absent other flora and fauna, insects and bacteria, sunlight and rain and a myriad of other variables, the trees we are planting just aren’t enough to get the ecosystem we’re after.

If we’re trying to create a natural ecosystem, we first have to recognize the environment we’re in. A desert ecosystem will be far different than a northern forest. We then need to seed the basic elements, but we don’t direct them day-to-day; we nurture them as they grow. If we know what we’re after — if we know our indicator species of success — if we see the experiment getting way off track, we can intervene in small ways to nudge it back on course. We can introduce small changes and see how the system responds. Over time, our natural ecosystem will show us how it wants to grow.

We do a disservice to our communities when we treat streets as if they were roads, when we ignore the complex environments streets are meant to create and treat them as if they were simple throughput models. Streets need to be designed block by block. Those designs need to be responsive and adaptable.

Read the rest of the article here. 

Montgomery, LeSueur County investing in a future without potholes

Montgomery concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

Project Description:

Le Sueur County and Montgomery, Minn. completed a $5.9 million street and utility reconstruction project on 5th Street (CSAH 3) in Montgomery in the summer of 2016.

Le Sueur County spearheaded this two-year project, replacing the deteriorating asphalt street from Trunk Highway 21 to Mill Ave NE with a concrete road. The city was responsible for the cost of infrastructure (water and sewer lines) and portions of Ash, Elm and Oak east of 5th and 6th Streets.

County Engineer Darrell Pettis said the reconstructed road was built in the 1940s and while improvements had been made over the years the street was basically shot. The (sewer and water) pipes below the road were in pretty tough shape too, according to Montgomery City Administrator Brian Heck.

Given the heavy commercial use of 5th Street, Pettis said he wanted to use concrete for the reconstructed road. Project Engineer Christopher M. Cavett noted in the project’s Feasibility Report that while concrete is more expensive initially, it requires less maintenance and has a longer life span.

The project’s total cost was about $5.9 million. The county’s portion was $3.4 million.  As a state aid highway, this project was funded in part by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle fees and motor vehicle sales tax. The city’s paid about $1.3 million, with another $1.3 million assessed to property owners.

Project Dates

May 2015 – June 2016

Project details

  • Concrete depth: 7 inches
  • Total Concrete Placed: 5,600 CY for the reconstructed roadway, plus concrete used for curb and gutter and driveways along the reconstructed route


Owner: Le Sueur County and City of Montgomery

Project Designers: Short, Elliott, Hendrickson (SEH), Mankato

Prime Contractor: SM Hentges, Jordan

Concrete contractor:  Cemstone, Montgomery

For more information read the Montgomery Case Study.

View other project photos below.



Street art could increase crosswalk safety

crosswalk safety | Bye Bye Potholes

By Adele Peters in Co-Exist

Zebra crossings—the striped crosswalks common on roads around the world—don’t necessarily work very well. In one Swedish study, drivers stopped for pedestrians only 5% of the time at the crosswalks, and rarely slowed down.

A city in India is experimenting with another approach: By adding some perspective shading to the stripes, the crosswalk looks a little like a roadblock from a distance.

Artists Saumya Pandya Thakkar and Shakuntala Pandya were asked to paint the crosswalks by a local company that manages the highways in Ahmedabad, India. “They asked us to do something for accident-prone zones near schools,” says Thakkar. “A lot of schoolkids were crossing the road, and it was not safe for them because of the high speed of the highway.”

The artists had seen a similar optical illusion in photos from China, and decided to attempt it in Ahmedabad, painting four crosswalks in the city in January. Months later, it seems to be working. “They are very happy with it,” Thakkar says. “Since then, they have marked that there is no accident there now.”

Read the rest of the article.


Blooming Prairie street reconstruction removes potholes

concrete main street | Bye Bye Potholes

Project Description

The city of Blooming Prairie and Steele County completed a $2.7 million street reconstruction project in 2015 that impacted Main Street, also know as County Road 42. The project covered a 1/2 mile from CSAH 21 (Center Avenue) on the west end to Fifth Ave. E on the east end.

According to Mike Jones, Blooming Prairie’s city administrator, the city was approached by the county some 25 years before this project with an offer to reconstruct the road. At the time, though, the city didn’t have the funds to replace utilities so the project was deferred.

Over the years, the roadway deteriorated significantly, so much so that the city went back to the county saying it could no longer maintain the road, riddled with potholes.

The decision was made to do a full street reconstruction that included replacing the roadway, lead pipes, the water main, the sanitary sewer and sidewalks; installing storm sewers; adding diagonal parking downtown, and upgrading street lights.

The total project cost was $2.625 million. The city’s portion for utilities and parking lanes was approximately $955,000. The county’s portion for the storm sewer and concrete roadway was about $1.670 million.

A unique challenge of the project was working around the deteriorating downtown buildings. Vibration monitoring was required to ensure none was damaged.

Project dates

May – September 2015

Project details

  • Concrete depth: 6″ West of TH 218 (Highway Ave); 7″ east of TH 218 near the grain elevator
  • Total concrete placed: 2,100 CY for roadway; 915 CY for curb, and sidewalks; 55 CY of that was color in concrete


Owner: City of Blooming Prairie, Steele County   Project designers: Stonebrooke and Stantec   Prime contractor: Elcor Construction of Rochester   Concrete contractor: Doyle Connor Co.    Ready Mix producer: Austin Ready Mix

Download the case study

Concrete roadway for Wabasha when asphalt price jumped

Wabasha concrete highway | Bye Bye Potholes

Wabasha County in southeastern Minnesota chose a concrete roadway in 2013 because of, in part, the jump in asphalt prices.

Wabasha County is located in southeastern Minnesota on the Mississippi River. The City of Wabasha is the county seat. CSAH 30, a well-traveled road in and out of the city from the north and south, had major pavement deterioration, a poor ride, and a segment of substandard geometry. The original 1930s concrete pavement was a Minnesota trunk highway that was later turned over to the county. It was resurfaced with bituminous in 1992.

In June 2013, the county began an improvement project of 5.25 miles of CSAH 30 that included reconstruction of narrow shoulder widths and ditches along 1.8 miles of that stretch. The construction went through the city limits. The contractor reclaimed and removed the existing bituminous surface and the underlying concrete road, and then crushed and reused it as the base.

“Wabasha County chose concrete because of the price of bituminous, the amount of traffic, and the expected preservation costs,” said County Engineer Dietrich Flesch. “Increasing truck traffic from silica sand transportation was anticipated and incorporated into the design.”

Key facts about the project

  • June 3 to October 26, 2013
  • Of the 5.25 miles of new pavement, 94,500 square yards is seven inches thick, and 10,500 square yards is nine inches thick. The thicker pavement is located where traffic is heaviest.
  • A rural concrete width is 28 feet and the municipal width is at least 40 feet. Most of the existing curb and gutter was left in place.
  • A + B bidding was used; the contractor bid the number of days they had to complete the project.
  • Four separate intersections were redesigned to include left-turn lanes.
  • Project included municipal utility work, and excavation of unsuitable soils and backfill with nearby river sand.
  • The project was complicated by the need to leave one lane open to residents, businesses and an area school without any alternative access.

Owner: Wabasha County
Project design and inspection: Wabasha County technicians, staff
Primer contractor and concrete paving: Chippewa Concrete Services
Aggregate supplier: Wabasha Sand & Gravel

For more information, contact Dietrich Flesch, Wabasha County Engineer.

Download the case study.

Remaining service life analysis puts cities on road to sustainability

asphalt deterioration | Bye Bye Potholes

You probably won’t notice it, but when you drive around parts of Minneapolis, you’re gliding over concrete streets that have been largely untouched since they were constructed 50 years ago.

Drive on other nearby streets – constructed much more recently – and instead of gliding, you’ll be thumped in your seat as you slam into potholes and deformities.

Head elsewhere and you’ll neither glide nor thump: You’ll detour. Road crews will have shut down access as they try to restore roads to their once-smooth surfaces.

The sad fact is that Minnesota has relatively few roads that have endured since their construction during the Johnson administration. Overall, road conditions have declined precipitously statewide, with an increasing percentage in need of repair immediately or within a few years.

Road engineers have a way of quantifying the state of a road in a measurement known as Remaining Service Life, or RSL. When a road is first created, its surface is smooth and even. Over time, that surface will gradually decline as it breaks down from the wear and tear of thousands and thousands of cars and trucks passing over it, heat and cold expanding and contracting it, sun and rain pelting it.

Left alone, a road will eventually reach a stage where the only vehicles that could potentially pass over it would be perhaps a Hummer H2 or a Sherman tank. But road engineers say a road has reached the end of its service life long before that stage. They peg a number that indicates the “ride quality index” of a road – that is, how drivers feel about the quality of the road as they drive over it. Initially drivers will be “pleased” with a road, then over time their reaction descends to “satisfied,” “concerned,” “unhappy” and “angry.” RSL is deemed exhausted once it hits that “concerned” stage.

The numbers show that Minnesota roads are inching closer and closer to zero RSL. The reason: Roads aren’t being built like they were five decades ago nor are they being repaired properly. Instead, we’re taking a short-term view – kicking the pothole down the road rather than eliminating it.

“We’re putting new frosting on a rotten cake,” says Matt Zeller of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota.

 How did we get here?

In the 1960s when those durable streets were laid down, engineers were largely confined to using one material: concrete. It was tough stuff – maybe a little rough on the surface, but up to the pressures it would endure daily and last decades.

Later, asphalt was available, with some obvious benefits: Not only was the surface smoother, but it cost far less to build the road with asphalt than with concrete.

The rub was that asphalt was a softer material and had half the lifespan. Even so, asphalt was an attractive alternative for cities, counties and state road planners because potentially you could construct an asphalt road, then thoroughly repair it in a couple of decades, and still invest less than you would for concrete in that time frame.

And because you could do repairs more quickly with asphalt than concrete, you wouldn’t inconvenience drivers as much with delays, waiting for the material to dry.

In short, planners got so locked in on asphalt that concrete became the forgotten surface material.

Then, a convergence of forces led to frosting over that rotten cake:

  • The cost of oil skyrocketed. In the mid-2000s, a barrel of oil shot over $100, so the cost savings of asphalt all but vanished.
  • Road-repair budgets took a hit. With asphalt costing more, new roads and repairs became more expensive.
  • Taxes didn’t keep up with needs. As elected officials faced voters intent on keeping tax rates low, budgets would have to be stretched, even though more cars and trucks were on the road than ever before.
remaining service life of pavement | Bye Bye Potholes
Engineers reacted to rising asphalt prices with one to three-year fixes on their streets. Most are near the point where they’re not worth repairing.

Engineers looked for a solution that would keep drivers happy, at least for a little while. They’d fill potholes, lay a thin layer of asphalt on roads needing repairs, a layer that didn’t last more than one to three years, and put off the work required for a long-term solution for a few more years.

A better approach

Across the state, the philosophy seems to be to make as many roads as possible drivable, even if it means they’ll need further repairs within a few years. A better approach, Zeller says, is to concentrate on doing a thorough job with a limited number of roads, then getting to the others when funds allow.

For example, to successfully repair an asphalt road, you can dig up the material, replace lower layers and essentially reconstruct the road so that it lasts 15-20 years. A concrete road resurfacing over the original 40 to 50-year pavement, done right, could last 30 years.

To satisfy drivers, the planners would be sure to have the good, high-quality roads available as an alternative to the ones on their last legs in the same area. Drivers would avoid the pothole-blemished streets and roads for, say, a year or two until funds were available to fix them as well.

Changing the conversation

As expensive as they are, roads often don’t get a lot of discussion by those who have to approve budgets to construct them. Both officials and engineers tend to stick with the status quo, making assumptions about prices based on outdated information and not exploring concrete as an alternative that would result in better efficiencies and applications for their road system.

But if we change the way we think and talk about road repairs, we can get out of the endless circle of repair-decline-repair-decline. By shifting to a more durable, sustainable approach to roads, we can restore Minnesota roads and streets to the under-appreciated durability of an earlier era.

Want to change the conversation about your city streets? Council members and their city engineers might ask themselves:

  1. What is the RSL of our streets?
  2. What streets will we thoroughly repair in the next three years and what will be the estimated cost?
  3. What streets will we hold off on repairing so we can take the money we would have spent on short-term fixes (see photo above) and apply it to the full-repair streets?


Kicking the can down crumbling roads

kicking the can down the road | Bye Bye Potholes

Crumbling roads | Bye Bye PotholesThe message to the state Legislature on transportation funding from local government officials Friday was clear: more of it, from a sustainable source.

No legislators attended a forum hosted by the Association of Minnesota Counties at the Crow Wing County Highway Department, prompting some to say the meeting amounted to “preaching to the choir.”

“I’ve heard these same concerns for quite a few years,” said Donald Niemi, Aitkin County commissioner. “I’m sick and tired of, and the general public is, of the gridlock that you feel down there when you go with well documented, researched problems.”

Jack Swanson, president of the county association, said its stance on transportation funding is for it to increase, although there is no advocacy for a particular funding source.

Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray said partly in response to legislative inaction on transportation funding last session, the county board approved a local options sales tax to close a large funding gap. The half-cent sales tax went into effect April 1 and its revenues are specifically dedicated to transportation expenditures.

“I bet each one of you has a similar story to tell,” Bray said.

Read more in the Brainerd Dispatch.

Ready mix concrete members rarely asked to bid

paying for roads | Bye Bye Potholes

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.

We discussed in a previous blog post how asphalt prices have more than doubled since 1999 but concrete prices increased only 33% in the same time frame. Yet cities rarely considered a concrete alternative during this change.

We also talked about how allowing for alternative pavement design for concrete can turn into a pleasant surprise once decision-makers see an actual bid and related life cycle cost analysis (LCCA). Waseca County board members regularly review asphalt and concrete bids. Owatonna city council members do the same.

Here’s what we haven’t given you before: An actual, stripped-down life cycle cost analysis prepared by a county engineer who regularly paves with both asphalt and concrete. See below!

Highway life cycle cost analysis by reneemcgivern

Note how the initial bids aren’t that different but even more important, how much that mile of road costs the city over the 35-year life of a mile of both bituminous and concrete roads. This is one (real!) LCCA and of course, it might look quite different for a different project.

Keep in mind that the bituminous LCCA doesn’t include the annual costs of repairing potholes.

Isn’t this document useful? Doesn’t it make you stop and think, “Hmmm. Which is the better value for taxpayers over the long run?”

Almost all Minnesota cities are spending millions on streets with a typical 15-20-year life and never considering ones with 35+ years of life.

What would it hurt a city council to compare asphalt and concrete bids for street or parking lot projects? It’s surely not the cost of preparing a concrete bid. We are willing to design a concrete street project for cities for free that includes its very own life cycle cost analysis. Learn more about our design services.

Also, here’s the more detailed life cycle cost analysis the county engineer prepared.

St. Charles becoming pedestrian-friendly city

St. Charles, Minn | Bye Bye Potholes

By Chris Rogers, Winona Post

Downtown St. Charles is about to become more pedestrian-friendly thanks to a big state grant. Last week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) gave out $2 million to Safe Routes to School projects across the state, from Lake Country to Caledonia. St. Charles got the largest single grant award of any grantee in the state: $300,000, the maximum amount allowable under the program.

Together with money from the city of St. Charles and St. Charles Public Schools, the grant will fund a host of improvements to the intersections of 11th Street and Whitewater Avenue/Highway 74 and 11th Street and Church Avenue, including new curb “bump outs,” crosswalks, and pedestrian crossing signs with button-activated flashing lights.

The project would also straighten out the currently skewed intersection at 11th Street and Whitewater Avenue by shifting a portion of 11th Street just west of Whitewater Avenue to the north, so that it lines up with 11th Street east of Whitewater Avenue. The city and the school district are working with CHS to acquire the company’s property on the corner, which would be needed to accommodate the street relocation.

Grade school students often walk from the school to the nearby library, but city and school officials explained that, as it exists today, 11th Street is not currently the best place to cross Whitewater Avenue. The skew of the intersection means that pedestrians have a long distance to walk from one sidewalk to another as a state highway and St. Charles’ main drag, Whitewater Avenue is busy. Currently, crossing guards help students get across safely, and those will not go away once the project is finished, but it will help make the crossing safer for students and for citizens and visitors to downtown, St. Charles Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roubinek explained.

“We’re working hard to get across the two highways that bisect the community,” Roubinek said. “This would get us across [Highway] 74 and provide a nice crossing between the elementary school and the pubic library.”

Under the plan, curb bump outs would extend the sidewalk further into the street on both Whitewater Avenue and Church Avenue, shortening the distance pedestrians have to cross, making pedestrians waiting to cross more visible to drivers, and encouraging drivers to slow down.

“Our downtown is the heart of our town, so to be able to provide a safer intersection with crosswalks and bump outs for both our young residents as well as everybody … it will just make it a safer place,” city administrator Nick Koverman said.

Read more in in the Winona Post.

City officials across Minnesota vie for aid to fix potholes and crumbling roads

Fix potholes | Bye Bye PotholesBy Pam Lowagie, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Newly minted Duluth Mayor Emily Larson gripped the steering wheel as she eased her Pontiac Vibe over one of her city’s rough streets. The small car bounced and wobbled atop a mishmash of loose pavement, gaping holes and heaving squares of old asphalt.

“Wow,” she muttered, unable to dodge all the bumps as she jerked the wheel, her keys jangling from the ignition. As she’d said before: “There’s only so long you can put Band-Aids on something that’s in need of an operation.”

Spring is pothole season in Minnesota, when the ground vacillates between freezing and thawing, pushing up pavement and then swallowing it. Along with bumpy rides and dented tire rims, it also brings extra headaches to mayors and other officials in cities across the state with too many streets that have been patched when they’ve needed to be rebuilt.

That work, deferred for too long due to a lack of funds, is reaching a critical point in many communities, city officials say. Although state leaders have talked about making roads and bridges a priority this legislative session, city governments are awaiting answers from the Capitol to see what the promises yield.

“Things are at an all-time low point for cities trying to keep up with their street maintenance and reconstruction,” said Anne Finn, transportation lobbyist with the League of Minnesota Cities.

If there is a ground zero for streets needing attention, many residents in this hilly Lake Superior city will quickly volunteer that it’s Duluth.

A smooth stretch of 10th Avenue E. between Superior and 5th streets in Duluth shows the city’s priority of getting roads fixed.

On a recent afternoon, Zak Radzak drove his Ford F150 near Piedmont Elementary School, an air freshener flapping from the rearview mirror with every dip of the rough pavement.

Radzak, 32, drives the city’s streets every day as he goes to construction sites and businesses in his job as a Teamsters Local president. He e-mails his council member routinely to complain.

Many of the city’s main thoroughfares get attention, Radzak noted. The trouble lies in the many miles of lightly traveled residential streets.

“It’s a travesty, actually. It’s embarrassing,” he said as his giant truck bounced along a sidewalk-less, curbless route where he sees children sometimes walk or ride bikes to school. “There’s chunks of road laying on the side of the road in places.”

Like most residents in Duluth, he understands why the streets are bad.

Starting in 2009, the city lost about $6 million a year that it used for street maintenance when the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa stopped sharing revenue with the city from its downtown casino — a move later upheld by court decisions.

Duluth’s topography also doesn’t help

The city, built on a hill and extending 26 miles long, is responsible for 478 miles of streets — roughly half the miles of Minneapolis streets, though it has less than a quarter of the population. Most of the city’s roads are built on hard rock and clay, which holds more water than other types of soil, raising more havoc during freeze-thaw cycles.

The city’s steep grade makes drainage more tricky, too — especially during heavy rainfalls, when water washes down the hill, threatening erosion.

The age of the streets also works against the city. Water mains beneath the streets, half of which are 80 years old or older, have been springing leaks, causing the pavement above to crumble or forcing the city to destroy the roads in order to repair them.

“Nothing lasts forever,” said public works director Jim Benning.

When the city tears up and rebuilds streets, officials try to make sure they will last as long as possible by replacing infrastructure beneath the streets and digging down an extra foot for the roadbed, laying down fabric and hauling in sand for a base before adding crushed rock and asphalt or concrete.

Read more about this statewide problem in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Editorial: Alabama’s infrastructure and potholes

Potholes in Alabama | Bye Bye PotholesBy the Editorial Board, Anniston (Alabama) Star

If they dare, homeowners can put off maintenance projects as long as they want. They can leave the gutters clogged, the AC on the fritz, the septic tank full and the roofing job ignored. It’s their house, their choice.

But they know how it’ll turn out.

The house will deteriorate. Small ailments will become big problems. And what used to be an attractive, middle-class two-story will become another person’s fixer-upper — or worse.

That’s where Alabama’s infrastructure is today. It’s the house that needs a paint job and a new roof. But that takes money, which is one of the mains reasons why so many of the state’s roads and bridges are in disrepair. The state has put off the inevitable. It’s thrown pennies at transportation repairs that no longer can wait.

On Thursday, a committee in the Alabama House of Representatives approved a gasoline tax increase — 6 cents more per gallon — that would go toward the state’s sagging infrastructure. The state’s current 18-cent gas tax provided the state with $414 million last year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. That, however, isn’t enough to address Alabama’s innumerable transportation repairs. With this potential increase, Alabama’s gas tax would be in line with its neighboring states.

“We can’t continue on the route we’re going,” said Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, the sponsor of the bill.

Read the complete editorial from the Anniston Star.

Online calculator answers question of how much gas tax hike would cost

As Minnesota lawmakers renew the debate over an increase in the gas tax, here’s an idea worth consideration.

Missouri offers its residents an online calculator that breaks down the fuel tax and how the money is spent. The application can also show how much a gas tax increase would cost them.

According to Equipment World’s Better Roads, figures are based on how many miles the motorist drives in a year and the average miles per gallon their vehicle gets. These figures are then used to break down the total taxes (federal and state and fees (state) paid each year for transportation.

Additional charts show where that money goes and how it’s used and how much an increase in the gas tax would cost them per year. For example, a vehicle getting 20 mpg and traveling 10,000 miles each year would pay $6 more per year if the gas tax were to increase 1.5-cents per gallon.

Like Minnesota, raising the gas tax has been a tough sell in Missouri. The same is true all over the country, according to Governing, a magazine that provides non-partisan news, insights and analysis for state and local government leaders.

Many states have long lists of projects that are approved but not paid for. Even with the recent passage in Congress of a five-year, $300 billion package — the first major federal transportation bill in a decade — there’s not enough money to make up the shortfalls in states. Despite all that, Governing is reporting that most governors and legislators are reluctant to raise their gas tax rates to increase infrastructure funding.

Here in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton who championed a gas tax hike last legislative session, recently said he still believes a new revenue source is needed for a long-term transportation funding plan. He also renewed his challenge to House Republicans, who oppose a gas tax increase, to come up with a viable alternative.

“It’s very bad policy, unacceptable policy to have no ongoing source of revenue for increased transportation projects, both transit and roads, highways, bridges,” he said.

That said, the Pioneer Press reports that without a gas tax hike, a long-term deal to fund road and bridge work likely depends on DFLers accepting the removal of $300 million or more in auto-parts sales tax* from the general fund.

With a projected $900 million budget surplus, Minnesota can afford it — but it would leave little money for other priorities, such as tax cuts, early-childhood education or rural broadband.

* Oh, the irony of raising auto-parts sales taxes on new wheels and hubcaps for drivers paying for pothole damage.

Awesome: Applying Data Science to War on Potholes

Pothole | Bye Bye PotholesFrom the Data Science Institute, Columbia University

New York City set a new record for potholes last year, and if Lou Riccio’s forecast is right, New Yorkers could be in for a bumpy ride this year, too. But it’s not all bad news. Thanks in part to Riccio’s research, New York’s war on potholes may be turning around soon.

New York City set a new record for potholes last year, and if Lou Riccio’s forecast is right, New Yorkers could be in for a bumpy ride this year, too. But it’s not all bad news. Thanks in part to Riccio’s research, New York’s pothole problem may be turning around soon.

An operations researcher at Columbia University, Riccio analyzed nearly 20 years of pothole and street-resurfacing data to figure out whether bad weather or bad management is behind the large number of potholes the city patches up each year.

His conclusion? Chronic underfunding of road repairs for nearly 20 years left city streets in poor shape and thus, prone to potholes. According to a model Riccio built, 80 percent of potholes are due to inadequate resurfacing while only 20 percent are due to harsh weather, as measured by inches of snowfall.

Based on the resurfacing gap that Mayor Bill deBlasio inherited, Riccio predicts the city could see between 250,000 to 300,000 potholes by spring’s end. That’s on par with the 1970s, he says, when the city’s financial woes caused sharp cutbacks in public services.

Read more in this highly digestible summary.

A bit of a data nerd? Then here’s the entire report.

Response to asphalt vs concrete editorial

The ability to construct and maintain roads quickly gives asphalt pavements the drivability factor motorists need. Asphalt construction methods allow planners and managers to fix congestion hot spots and bottlenecks during off-peak hours, so commuters may never see an orange barrel or a construction-related traffic jam.

The life-cycle cost analysis from the concrete industry representatives you quote in your article raises many questions. It does not follow the Minnesota Department of Transporation’s pavement type selection policy (located in Chapter 7 of the Manual atwww.dot.state.mn.us/materials/pvmtdesign/manual.html) nor does it resemble any from other agencies that I have reviewed in the past.

In my review of their life cycle analysis, I see several items that have skewed the results.

1) There are several maintenance activities listed for the asphalt pavement option and they are early in the life of the pavement. If this is not based on actual data, it will unfairly skew the results and unfairly adds more costs to the asphalt pavement option. For example, their LCCA shows a mill and overlay occurring at year 15 for the asphalt pavement. For a new pavement, MnDOT estimates a mill and overlay occurring at year 20 and most local agencies estimate this to occur even later in the pavement life.

2) I do not see a cost item for dowel bars in the concrete cost estimate. If this implies that they are proposing a thin concrete without dowel bars, then it is questionable that there will be only minor repairs at year 20 as there are only a few of these types of pavement in Minnesota to prove this assumption. In fact, depending on how thin the concrete section is, MnDOT assumes that the pavement will need to be removed and replaced at year 20. This is an expensive future cost.

3) Another example is their use of the Discount Rate of -0.5 percent, which unfairly skews the results to show a higher cost for asphalt pavement. An accurate analysis uses a discount rate to bring future costs back to present value costs (today’s dollars) for comparison. It is calculated by taking into account the inflation rate and the opportunity value of money, see the Federal Highway Administration guidance at www.fhwa.dot.gov/asset/lcca/010621.pdf. MnDOT currently uses a discount rate of 1.74 percent and has never used a negative discount rate.

If you were to use the MnDOT LCCA procedure and discount rate, the LCCA of asphalt pavement in their example would be under $450,000 per mile, which is less than their estimated costs for asphalt and also less than the concrete pavement life cycle cost they propose of $497,153 per mile.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been actively using alternate design bids since 2010 for more than 40 projects to select pavement surface type (asphalt vs. concrete). The resultant pavement type was asphalt pavement approximately 85 percent of the time. Asphalt pavement was the lowest initial bid and the lowest life cycle cost. Currently there are very few alternate design bids on MnDOT projects because it was not found to be economical.

Not only is asphalt pavement economical, it provides a durable, smooth and quiet surface. In fact MnDOT has the record of 13 National Perpetual Pavement Awards over the past 13 years. The criteria for this prestigious national award are pavement sections that are 35 years or older, have not had major structural failure, have on average at least 13 years between overlays, and should demonstrate excellence in design, quality in construction and value to the traveling public (see www.AsphaltRoads.org).

Asphalt is America’s most recycled product. More than 80 million tons of asphalt pavement are recycled each year saving the American taxpayer over $2.8 billion. It also makes asphalt pavements sustainable. See www.asphaltpavement.org/recycling#Results for more information.

In summary, MAPA supports using the life-cycle cost analysis properly for a cost-effective pavement surface (new or rehabilitated) for the taxpayers of Minnesota.

EDITORIAL: Asphalt vs. concrete: A changing debate?

Concrete vs asphalt, mac vs pc | Bye Bye PotholesEditorial in the Hutchinson (Minn) Leader

Protestant or Catholic? PC or Apple? Blacktop or concrete?

Talk to people who pledge an allegiance to any of these, and they’ll tell you they rarely, if ever, switch to the other side.

Especially the preference for blacktop or concrete. And especially if they’re a public engineer or a member of a local governing board that decides which one to use in a paving project.

Frankly, most people don’t care what’s underneath their shoes or tires. They just want a flat, smooth driving surface that’s not constantly being repaired. They leave it to the experts to decide which is best and will last the longest.

This is where concrete and asphalt pavement interests collide. And concrete interests have been yelling the loudest lately, claiming they’re often not heard because too many public engineers and city councils only consider the initial cost of paving a road. That makes asphalt cheaper.

But stretch that cost analysis over the life of a road, say 35 or more years, and the numbers are closer.

Two visiting concrete supporters — David Maki and Renée McGivern — told us this past week that concrete is cheaper in the long run, and holds up better, which is important at this time of year when potholes are being filled.

Most of those potholes, they maintain, open up in asphalt pavement.

They added that prices for concrete from 1999 to 2014 climbed a mere 33 percent, while the cost of asphalt pavement increased 120 percent.

And concrete pavement technologies are making that industry’s product even better, according to Mr. Maki, general manager for Hutchinson Concrete, one of five ready-mix providers owned by Monticello-based JME Cos.

“We’re designing pavements now that will last 60 to 65 years,” he said. “… What we can do with concrete now — your imagination is the limit.”

Jill Thomas, a public engineer and executive director of the Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association, questions such claims. “Asphalt is still the lower price overall,” she told us. That’s why, when given an option of concrete or asphalt pavements, she said, cities and counties continue to select the latter for 85 percent of road projects in Minnesota.

Asphalt pavement is more durable, she added, and it provides a smoother, quieter driving surface. For one thing, it doesn’t have joints like concrete pavement (concrete supporters argue asphalt’s thermal cracks are even worse). It is also ready for traffic much sooner than concrete pavement, which requires several days to cure (concrete supporters say that is not important because most road projects take weeks or months to complete anyway). And utility work that requires the pavement to be dug up and replaced can be done more quickly with asphalt.

Mr. Maki and Ms. McGivern, a consultant working with Minnesota’s ready-mix industry, say all that the concrete paving companies want is a chance to have their bids considered by the decision makers.

For decades, asphalt, a byproduct of oil, was the less expensive option and was therefore favored by public works departments across Minnesota. “It’s cheap and it’s fast and they they know how to work with it,” Ms. McGivern said. “They have a strong preference for it because they know how to work with it.”

For those reasons, 95 percent of Minnesota’s city streets are paved with asphalt. “It’s old habits,” Ms. McGivern said.

But when oil prices climbed above $100 a barrel as recently as June 2014, the concrete industry demanded an even playing field.

To support their argument, our visitors offered a life-cycle cost analysis of a pavement project prepared by a county engineer. The analysis showed an initial cost of $453,000 for concrete vs. $363,000 for asphalt pavement.

“Minor repairs” 20 years after the initial concrete installation would bring the project’s total cost after 35 years to $497,000.

By comparison, asphalt pavement would require maintenance several times during the same period, according to the county engineer. That includes four seal coats, patching, two crack fillings and a “mill and overlay,” costing $167,000, bringing the total 35-year cost to $530,000, or $33,000 more than concrete.

Pothole repair is more common on asphalt pavement, the two concrete supporters added. And most of those potholes require filling in February and March with cold patch, and again in the spring or summer. “That means they’re going to touch those potholes twice,” Ms. McGivern said.

The big question is: Does it make sense for cities such as Hutchinson to require an alternative bid using concrete whenever a road project is proposed?

We asked Kent Exner, Hutchinson’s city engineer, what he thought of requiring alternative bids. Working with concrete “is a totally different design approach,” he said. And because design can account for 8- to 10-percent of a project’s total cost, requiring bids for both concrete and asphalt pavement will ultimately drive up costs, he said. “It almost doubles our design effort,” he added.

Still, concrete is the right option for some projects, he said, such as the paving of Washington Avenue and Adams Street Southeast in 2010. Mr. Exner said he likes considering concrete for projects that don’t involve changing grades or slopes “as you go.”

Our visitors were of the opinion that design costs should not be significantly more expensive. They asserted that any project estimated to cost more than $150,000 is worthy of considering concrete. They added concrete will help eliminate potholes for decades.

“Hutchinson is concrete friendly,” Mr. Maki said. “They look at it for the big projects, but they should look at it for the small projects, too … It’s just getting them to do their due diligence.”

Those of us who aren’t engineers need to leave the question of asphalt or concrete to those who know better. The world already has too many armchair engineers.

But it seems that for an uncomplicated project that doesn’t involve much additional design, taxpayers would be best served with consideration of both.

City engineer warns Mpls. streets are deteriorating faster than they’re repaired

pothole1By Steve Brandt, Minneapolis Star Tribune

The pavement of Minneapolis residential streets is declining quickly enough that if more money isn’t spent within 10 years, many roads will need expensive reconstruction rather than a much cheaper resurfacing, city public works officials said Tuesday.

The pavement of Minneapolis residential streets is declining quickly enough that if more money isn’t spent within 10 years, many roads will need expensive reconstruction rather than a much cheaper resurfacing, city public works officials said Tuesday.

It would take a new investment of $30 million annually over the next 10 years to offset the deterioration of an aging network of residential streets largely built in the 1960s and 1970s, Public Works Director Steve Kotke told City Council members at a meeting Tuesday. But even a lesser sum would help, he added.

The outlook has ramifications for city property owners because typically about one-quarter of the cost of street projects is paid through assessments, while the balance is paid through property taxes assessed citywide. The city now spends about $25 million annually on street repairs.

Kotke said that with an additional $30 million annually, the average condition of all types of city streets could be brought to fair condition, as measured by the city’s rating system for the surface condition of streets. But there’s no consensus on how to raise the money.

When streets are in better shape, it’s cheaper to resurface, which involves shaving off a layer of deteriorating asphalt and applying a fresh coat, plus making minor spot improvements. But that typically deteriorates after 15 years.

Read more in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Pothole Whack-a-Mole is endless

Pothole whack-a-moleEvery season, we’re forced to endure pothole whack-a-mole on our streets. For drivers, it feels endless. For public works departments, it’s business as usual and they have pothole repair down to a science.

Repairing potholes, which form in asphalt, is a strong habit or a “default”  behavior.

Concrete is not a habit and yet, it can solve the pothole problem for good.

Just give this guy a neon vest and work boots and he’ll be good to go on a street crew filling potholes.

Pavers or concrete? Making streets lively is more important than what’s underfoot

pavers | bye bye potholes

I was lucky enough to travel to Scandinavia a year or two ago, and got to experience the wonders of walking on lovely sidewalks. Many European cities pave their sidewalks in complex patterns formed by smaller tiles of concrete, brick or stone. If you stop to notice the textures underfoot on historical streets, it makes strolling those cities delightful.

But in the U.S., it’s a different story. Last week the designers of the new Nicollet Mall, downtown Minneapolis’ premier pedestrian shopping street, cut costs for the reconstruction project after contracting bids came in over budget. The No. 1 item on the chopping block was the “intricate brick-like pavers,” a fundamental part of the original design. Instead the architects, James Corner Field Operations, have recommended using poured concrete.

The changes are enough to give any well-traveled Minneapolitan a serious case of sidewalk envy, leaving them asking, “Why can’t we have nice things?”

Read More.

Pothole Damage Costs U.S. Drivers $3 Billion Annually

damaged carAs snow and ice begin to thaw and crumbling roadways emerge, a new study from AAA reveals that pothole damage has cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, or approximately $3 billion annually. With two-thirds of Americans concerned about potholes on local roadways, AAA cautions drivers to remain alert to avoid pothole damage, and urges state and local governments to fully fund and prioritize road maintenance to reduce vehicle damage, repair costs and driver frustration.

“In the last five years, 16 million drivers across the country have suffered pothole damage to their vehicles,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “The problems range from tire punctures and bent wheels, to more expensive suspension damage.”

According to AAA’s survey, middle- and lower-income individuals are the most worried about potholes, with the majority of respondents in households having annual incomes under $75,000 expressing the highest levels of concern over damaged roadways. This is likely due in part to the financial impact, as pothole damage can lead to expensive and extensive vehicle repairs.

“On average, American drivers report paying $300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage,” continued Nielsen. “Adding to the financial frustration, those whose vehicles incurred this type of damage had it happen frequently, with an average of three times in the last five years.”

To minimize vehicle damage, AAA urges drivers to ensure tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread depth, as they are the only cushion between a pothole and the vehicle. If a pothole strike is inevitable, it is also critical that drivers slow down, release the brakes and straighten steering before making contact with the pothole. To avoid potholes in the roadway, drivers should remain alert, scan the road and increase following distances behind the vehicle ahead.

Machine that makes potholes vanish in three minutes

Editor’s note: Now here’s an interesting solution to potholes from a company in Africa. Read this story from Standard Digital News in Kenya.

Is this the best cure for potholes? A company has introduced an innovative paving technology, which takes a maximum of three minutes to fix one pothole.

Avery East Africa (AEA), in partnership with UK-based Velocity Road Emergency Repair and Maintenance Company, has already filled potholes on key roads within Mombasa using the technology known as velocity road patching.

”A powerful hose that can spray a mixture of cold bitumen and fine ballast into a pothole, sealing damaged roads in a few minutes is mounted on a special truck,” explained AEA Managing Director Nicholus Kithinji in an interview with The Standard. AEA are the sole distributors in East and Central Africa and are targeting to have their first major contract signed by end of next year. Kenya is the second nation in Africa to adopt this road repair technology after South Africa.

Read more.

Legal settlement: St. Paul must rebuild street curb ramps

street reconstruction | Bye Bye PotholesPeople with disabilities will have an easier time crossing St. Paul streets, as a result of a settlement agreement announced January 25 by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center. The city has agreed to upgrade curb ramps on some of its busiest streets. Curb ramps are short ramps that connect the sidewalk to the street and provide individuals with disabilities access. They are sometimes referred to as curb cuts.

The settlement affects curb ramps on 18 sections of streets that were rebuilt in 2014. It also affects all future street reconstruction and mill and overlay projects.

The St. Paul City Council, which signed off on the settlement January 13, voted that same day to approve changes to the St. Paul Department of Public Works Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan. The city is now required to comply with the accessibility requirements of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act when it completes alterations of city streets.

The change means that curb ramps will be replaced with legally compliant ramps, or installed where none exist, during mill and overlay as well as street reconstruction projects. The policy change calls for the city to identify all intersections lacking ramps, or older non-compliant ramps that don’t comply with the accessibility standards in place at the time of the alteration. New ramps will then be installed and older non-compliant ramps replaced.

Read more at Access Press.

Grove City prepares for $12.8M infrastructure and street reconstruction project

street reconstruction | Bye Bye Potholes
Infrastructure and street replacements will be the major focus of cities over the next 10 years.

We’re amazed by the enormous costs of replacing infrastructure in cities. Take Grove City near Willmar with a population of  about 650 residents. The city is set to begin a $12.8 million utility project this spring that includes replacing a lot of stuff: a sewage treatment system, nearly 18,000 feet of sewer lines and 12,500 feet of water main lines, and streets that will need a reconstruction after the underground work is complete.

It’s hard for the average resident to get his head around this. Fortunately, the city used it’s head and sought and will receive state and federal grants for $6.8 million and also low-interest loans for $4.8 million.

Read the article about Grove City West Central Tribune.

How a $1.4 billion bonding bill moves forward in Minnesota

Bridge repair | Bye Bye Potholes
Highway 63 bridge, Red Wing. Photo credit: MnDOT

From MinnPost:

Gov. Mark Dayton made history last week when he proposed a $1.4 billion bonding bill for clean water, college campuses and other public construction projects across the state.

It’s the largest single bonding bill ever proposed in Minnesota, setting the bar high for the biennial debate about how much money lawmakers should borrow in order to tackle a backlog of infrastructure needs across the state.

“I urge the Legislature to be wise,” said Dayton, a Democrat in his second and final term. “I urge the Legislature to look beyond the politics of 2016, and the talking points for re-elections and say, ‘What does Minnesota need?’”

Bonding bills — the process the state uses to pay for capital projects — are among the most complicated debates in state politics, requiring a high bar for passage and a lot of competing interests across the state. Lawmakers must comb through thousands of projects and present a delicate regional and political balance in order to get support. Sometimes, a single project can tip the scales and mean the difference between failure and passage.

Here’s a breakdown of how the bonding process works in Minnesota and how legislators manage to pass a bill nearly every year:

What do we mean by “bonding bill,” and how long has it been around?
In 1962, Minnesota’s constitution was amended to allow the state to take on debt, issuing bonds to help pay for the construction and upkeep of its many public buildings and other infrastructure. Nearly every year since then, legislators have reviewed and curated a package of projects they want to fund. That bill is known as the bonding bill or capital investment bill.

How do the bonds work?
At the most basic level, bonds are a form of debt that’s very similar to a loan. Government agencies borrow money by selling bonds to investors. In return, investors get a regular stream of interest payments from the state and the promise of a full refund at the end of the bond’s life. The maximum term of Minnesota bonds is 20 years, according to the constitution, but many don’t last that long. There are several different types of bonds, but Minnesota issues general obligation bonds for infrastructure, which guarantees repayment to investors.

What kinds of projects are eligible to be included in a bonding bill?
The state Constitution requires that a bondable project must be publicly owned and specifically designated for infrastructure, not ongoing or operational costs. Typically, bonding bills are filled with renovation or construction needs for public college and university campuses, safety upgrades to hospitals or prisons, sewer or other water infrastructure fixes, road and bridge repairs, transit, parks, trails, airports or public buildings like civic centers. A few other uses for bonding were etched into the constitution in the state’s early days — like repelling invasions and suppressing insurrections — but they don’t come up much anymore.

Read more of this article by Briana Beirschbach in MinnPost.

A colorful, classy downtown greets Detroit Lakes tourists

Detroit Lakes street reconstruction | Bye Bye Potholes

Project description

A colorful, classy downtown greets Detroit Lakes tourists now that a major street reconstruction is complete on County State Aid Highway 22, which runs through the downtown retail area. Apex Engineering Group, Detroit Lakes, worked closely with the city, Becker County and local businesses to develop a detailed staging/phasing plan to reconstruct the streets in the summer of 2015.

The decision to use concrete was largely based on the additional anticipated life cycle compared to the bituminous alternative. Also, concrete worked better for handling the tight grades at the site. Incorporation of colored and textured concrete in the street pavement and sidewalks provided the beautification elements that the city and county wanted, without adding significant yearly costs.

Of note: The contract with the contractor included provisions for a Locked Incentive Date (LID) payment of $50,000 for substantial completion of work downtown by June 26th. The elective payment was a no-excuse incentive that did not provide extensions for weather conditions, unforeseen circumstances, or any other factor typically considered for time modifications. With the LID, the contractor also waives the ability to make any claims for added costs associated with trying to achieve the incentive payment.

Download this case study.

Project dates 

April to August 2015

Project details

  • Total cost of the project: $4.437M; concrete-related costs $1.34M including pavement, curb, sidewalk, driveways
  • Project length: 0.54 miles
  • Concrete depth: 7” with dowels with Class 5 Aggregate sub-base
  • Total concrete placed: 3,600CY


Owner: City of Detroit Lakes, Becker County

Concrete subcontractor: Curb Masters

Project engineer: Jon Pratt, Apex Engineering Group

General contractor: Sellin Brothers

Ready mix producer: ARM Member Strata Concrete

It’s concrete, not cement

Sweet cakeOkay, now that we got your attention with a lovely molten chocolate lava cake, allow us to share a lesson. That sidewalk, parking lot or street you describe as cement is not cement. It’s concrete. So what’s the difference?

Cement is in the concrete mix like flour is in a cake mix. Cement is an ingredient; concrete is what you see and walk on. Flour is an ingredient; the cake is what you see and devour.

Most people, in almost all cases, should use the word “concrete.”

Now you know.

Band-aid approach costs taxpayers more in long run

Band-aid approach costs taxpayers more | Bye Bye Potholes
Photo credit: Waseca County News

By Jacob Stark, Waseca County News

Citing recent impacts to the city’s image with deteriorating streets and pumping untreated wastewater into lakes, Waseca City Council discussed a proposed capital improvement plan that would raise taxes by five percent.

The plan includes raising taxes to pay for street, sanitary sewer and water improvement needs every year over a 10 year period

In June and September of this year, heavy rainfall resulted in groundwater infiltration issues for the city’s sewer system, necessitating emergency discharge of wastewater into Waseca’s lakes.

At the city council’s Nov. 5 budget work session, City Manager Danny Lenz said improvements to the city’s system are necessitated partly by how needs like this impact the city’s image.

“It just gives the image that the city isn’t ripe for development and growth,” Lenz said. “One of the basic things for economic development and growth of any type is to show that the city can provide its basic services — and provide them well.”

Also of concern are streets in disrepair. While the city has repaved deteriorating streets, Lenz says this approach is not a long-term solution, especially when it should be looking at underlying problems, including utility lines.

“The approach has been putting a Band-Aid on them, instead of redoing roads how they should be and bringing them up to modern standards,” he said. Because of this, he said, older streets are deteriorating faster. This means that the Band-Aid approach is costing more in the long term because the work on streets has to be done more often while accomplishing less.

Lenz said that the city is reaching a tipping point when it comes to “getting by” versus actually improving and maintaining the city’s infrastructure. To address this, staff is looking at a 10-year capital improvement plan that lists needed projects, sets a timeline and identifies a potential funding source to undertake long-term improvement projects for the city’s streets and sewer systems.

Read more in Waseca County News.

Pothole repair: An idea from the history books

Pothole repair | Bye Bye Potholes
How about a pothole brigade, like the bucket brigades of old? Photo credit: City of Marine on St. Croix








When the potholes seemingly appear out of nowhere in the spring, Minnesotans will no doubt be screaming to have them fixed.

And as everyone knows, that will require cities, counties and state road crews to be on top of their annual pothole repair game.

Most will throw lots of manpower and money at the problem.

More than 150 years ago, the answer to fixing our bad roads wasn’t all that different.

From the very beginning of Minnesota as a territory, roads were an important part of its development. And it took more than money to get them built.

Every male citizen between the ages of 18 and 50 was required to work on the roads at least two days each year, according to a report written by the Minnesota Department of Transportation titled “Building on a Strong Foundation – The History of State Aid for Local Transportation.”

Perhaps that’s one way to curb Minnesota’s burgeoning pothole problem. A pothole brigade comprised of men and women ages 18 to 50 who are no longer willing to tolerate a crumbling road system.

Now there’s an idea to present to your city council or county board, the next time roads are on the agenda!

Or you could ask if they’d like to get serious and make sure the next road project calls for truly competitive bids – bids that include an alternative pavement designs. That’s only way to compare the real, long-term costs and benefits of using concrete vs. asphalt materials.


MnDOT pays counties, cities to maintain state aid road system

1923 map of the Minnesota Trunk Highway system
1923 map of the Minnesota Trunk Highway system

Since Minnesota’s earliest days, counties have played a pivotal role in the construction and maintenance of our road system.

As early as 1849, lawmakers passed an act outlining the responsibility of counties to develop roads. Some 80 years later, the Minnesota state aid road system was established.

Today, the county state aid highway system (CSAH) includes more than 30,000 miles of roadway that counties are required by law to construct and maintain. Funds to pay for these roads and fill their potholes, come from a portion of the state’s gas tax and motor vehicle licensing fees.

In Minnesota, the amount of funding each county receives is based on a formula:


  • 10 percent is allocated on an equal basis to all counties;
  • 10 percent is apportioned on the basis of motor vehicle registered in each county;
  • 30 percent is apportioned on the basis of approved CSAH lane miles in each county; and
  • 50 percent is apportioned on the basis of need. Need is defined as the cost of the construction required to reconstruct all CSAH miles to meet state aid design standards.

Once approved by the Commissioner of Transportation, 40 percent of CSAH funds are distributed to counties for administration, maintenance and preservation. The remaining funds are to be used for construction or reconstruction.

Cities also receive a cut of the gas tax and licensing to construct and maintain their roads through the Municipal State Aid Street (MSAS) program administered through the Minnesota Department of Transportation. (MnDOT)

For a city to be included in the MSAS system, it must have a population of at least 5,000. Within each eligible city, up to 20 percent of local streets and county roads may be designated as MSAS.

Although cities receives substantially less than counties (9 percent vs 29 percent) of the state aid highway funds, the amount each city can receive is also based on a formula:

  • 50 percent is divided proportionately based on each city’s population; and
  • 50 percent is divided proportionately based on the construction needs of each city.

Last year, MnDOT distributed $154.6 million to 201 city road projects and $499.8 million to 452 county road projects through these state aid programs.

Read more about state aid for local transportation.

Gaylord street reconstruction project transforms downtown

Gaylord street reconstruction | Bye Bye Potholes

Downtown now a showcase with fresh concrete, sidewalks and more

The residents and business owners of Gaylord, Minnesota are happy and relieved that the two-year highway and street reconstruction project by MnDOT and the city is now complete. Downtown streets, especially at 4th & Main, are bright, smooth, modern and welcoming.

Gaylord, a town with 2300 residents, is unique in that three state highways come together in the heart of the city  —  5, 19 & 22. The project overall involved 1.5 miles of street and highway reconstruction and over a mile of underground utilities.

Work in 2014 included reconstruction of a section of Highways 19 and 22, which ran from Sibley Avenue to Gaylord’s north city limits. Utilities were updated, concrete curb and gutter was added, sidewalks were made accessible, a crosswalk near the school was added, and a smoother road was placed. In 2015, the project focused on the business district including Highway 5 and 22 to the south. Again, utilities, sidewalks and the streets were replaced. The city added new lighting, benches, bike racks and planters as well (see video below).

“The water, sewer, and utilities were probably close to 80 years old and the roadway probably was 50-60 years old, said Kevin McCann, city administrator. “We knew we needed to fix it.”

In 2008, the city went to MnDOT District 7 with a scoping report identifying infrastructure improvements including dreams for a streetscape, improved walkability and lighting, better parking and stormwater management.

Gaylord street before reconstruction | Bye Bye Potholes
Gaylord intersection before reconstruction.

MnDOT was aware of Gaylord’s needs but had been prioritizing other highway reconstruction projects for years. With the city’s report in hand, the agency, the agency scheduled this 1.5-mile highway reconstruction project for 2014 and 2015.

McCann said a lot of stakeholders were involved, including residents and business owners. One of the things the city did was offer no-interest, four-year loans to assist downtown businesses with cash flow challenges during the construction project. Neighboring city St. Peter had done something similar for their downtown businesses during their street reconstruction project.

“We think it’s going to be a showcase; it’s the first thing people see when they come into town.” said McCann. “To see all of this come together in the end has been a great experience for me, and I think it’s been a great experience for the community.”

Throughout the project, the city regularly updated a web page with backgrounders, maps and other news. The content was produced by the city engineer, Justin Black, P.E. of Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH). He worked on the scoping report as well.

While the north end of the project near a school involved new bituminous paving, the downtown streets were paved with concrete.

“The city was very adamant that the downtown was concrete,” said Black. “It was originally concrete, they wanted it to last a long time, and they also liked the idea of not having to do a lot of maintenance.”

Here’s a great project video that SEH produced featuring the engineer, city administrator and mayor. The video explains the project and shows their progress. For some people, it’s easier to watch a video than read about a project. And for leaders, it’s quicker to talk about it than write about it. A video is a good alternative provided that you keep it fairly brief so editing doesn’t become burdensome.

Download this Gaylord Minnesota street project case study.

Learn more: Watch a recording of the Sept. 28, 2016  webinar, Partnering for Successful Downtown Street Reconstruction Projects, on the League of Minnesota Cities website.

Small Cities Assistance for Road Improvement funds a drop in a bucket

This is a terrific story from the Pineandlakes Echo Journal newspaper. It perfectly sums up the ambivalence of cities who received funds through Small Cities Assistance for Road Improvements, a program the Legislature approved earlier this year. On the one hand, they’re grateful. On the other,  they’re frustrated.

Small Cities Assistance for Road Improvements project | Bye Bye Potholes
Tri City Paving began demolition of First Street and its sidewalks in Pine River on June 1 in preparation for a long-awaited street improvement project. Photo by Travis Grimler/Pineandlakes Echo Journal

Last session, Minnesota lawmakers reached a compromise on a plan to fix roads and bridges in the state – a compromise that benefits small cities exclusively.

The $12.5 million in transportation funding approved for towns under 5,000 was split among more than 700 small cities, making the amount received by each community appear scanty compared to the cost of road work. But local small towns are grateful for any addition to their budgets.

“It wasn’t enough, but it was kind of unexpected,” said Tom Blomer, Nisswa public works director. Nisswa’s total allotment is about $53,000.

Pine River received less money, but is still thankful.

“You know, $17,000 is a lot of money for a city that’s less than a million,” said Pine River city clerk Wanda Mongan. “It was a nice shot in the arm.”

“It was very significant,” said Mike Hansen, Pine River’s public works director. “It’s a large sum of money, but when you start adding up road work it doesn’t go as far as you would think it would. ”

Though even simple road repairs cost far more than most cities received through this compromise, it has helped places like Pine River to spread their budgets out further. Pine River used its share of the Small Cities Assistance for Road Improvement in road repairs in five locations throughout the city.

“It was places we planned on doing regardless, but it sure makes other projects feasible before they were originally planned,” Hansen said. “Everything is already planned out, and this patchwork we did was to extend the life of the roads that haven’t fallen in our plan.”

Disbursements of the assistance has come in two parts – one arrived in July, and the second portion is set to arrive in December. The city of Pine River has already spent its share and intends to use the second disbursement to repay the general fund, where the cost of repairs would have come from if the city hadn’t received the assistance.

“If we hadn’t gotten it, we would have taken the whole thing from the general fund,” Mongan said.

Blomer said Nisswa’s share will supplement the road fund.

“What they gave is the equivalent of our plowing budget for a year — not much more than that. It’s not even enough for a whole road project,” Blomer said. “$150,000 or $300,000 would be more in line with what it would take to offset road projects. It’s not enough to really do anything with but small stuff.”

Luckily, Blomer said Nisswa just overlaid Main Street and Smiley Road in front of the Northland Center, and Crow Wing County redid a portion of County Road 18 through town.

“We are in better shape than we were five years ago by quite a bit,” he said. “But we have two to three roads we need to do in the next three to five years.

“We’re in much better shape than the county. Obviously there are road projects we’d like to do. It’s never going to be enough,” he said.

Crosslake received half of its roughly $60,000 allotted, with the rest to be received in late December, which has been budgeted for crack sealing. Public works director Ted Strand called the funding a significant help.

“For crack sealing, we usually put about $25,000 into the road budget,” Strand said. “This last year, I went back to the council and asked for an additional $25,000 because we had so much damage from the spring thaw … That amount (given by the state) really came in handy, because we attached it to our budget and used the $50,000 elsewhere.”

Breezy Point will receive a total of $62,000 in assistance from the state, which will likely go toward sealcoating and crack sealing. City administrator Joe Rudberg knows this was a “one-time funding,” but hopes more state assistance will come along in the future.

“In some respects it is a drop in the bucket, when you look at overall costs that the city would incur over the long haul, but we are looking at sealcoating next year being in the neighborhood of $75,000 worth of costs, so that just about funds that whole expenditure,” Rudberg said. “Hey, it all helps. Any money is great.”

Other cities are still planning how to use their share.

Pequot Lakes‘ total allotment is around $44,000. Mike Loven, public works supervisor, said he likely will recommend that the city council authorize using the money to fund overlays on city blocks. The city did some overlays, but could have done more if the street department budget hadn’t been cut.

“We’re trying to just keep up. We’re not getting ahead in the road repairs,” Loven said.

A general estimate to overlay a residential block is $8,000-$10,000, so the state funding would help improve about four blocks, Loven said.

Even if the city had the money to make some necessary road improvements, it wouldn’t because the upcoming Highway 371 expansion project will affect those roads. There’s no use tearing up those roads and improving them only to see them be torn up again.

“We don’t want to potentially spend money on a road that they may help repair,” Loven said, referring to contractors who would resurface a road back to its prior condition or better if it’s affected by the highway project.

“It’s been a lot of hurry up and wait because of the highway. And when that’s done we’ll have considerably more roads to take care of,” he said, referring to current state and county roads the city will take ownership of after the highway project is complete.

Lake Shore‘s total is nearly $30,000, which will go toward road maintenance.

“Road maintenance is so expensive,” said Teri Hastings, city administrator/planning and zoning administrator. “So it’s a drop in the bucket, but every bit helps.”

Lake Shore puts calcium chloride on gravel roads, and even though the city doesn’t have a lot of gravel roads, it’s spent nearly $11,000 on that this year. So far this year, the city has spent over $18,000 to grade roads, mow ditches, sweep streets and fill potholes. That cost doesn’t include snowplowing, sanding or overlay work.

The city’s roads are in fairly good condition so the road committee is not recommending any major overlays for 2016.

“But it’s something you don’t ever want to get behind on,” Hastings said. “You get behind and it all comes at once. We want to ensure we keep up.”

To that end, the city has a road inventory, which Hastings said is well worth the money because it’s the city’s guidebook that includes such information as citizen complaints and when a road was last surfaced.

Jenkins‘ share of state money is $14,114. As of yet, none of it has been spent, and plans are still in the works.

“We are likely looking at doing chip sealing,” said Krista Okerman, Jenkins city clerk. “We did chip sealing on a road last year and it turned out well. It is probably likely we would do about the same amount of road. It costs about $16,000.”

Like Pine River, Jenkins is grateful for the assistance.

“It was unexpected,” Okerman said. “I don’t think anyone knew it was coming. We are thrilled to get it. It was one of those things when you don’t know about it. It is a help, but obviously if they gave it to us on a yearly basis it would help a lot more.”

Okerman said the Jenkins transportation budget is only $35,000, making $14,000 a significant fraction of the annual budget, even if it isn’t enough to do a full road repair project.

“To reclaim and repave 1 mile of road would cost approximately $100,000,” Okerman said. “The $14,000 will chip seal approximately 1 mile of road.”

Here’s the story in the Pineandlake Echo Journal.

Here’s a similar story in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Driving on a roundabout video helpful tool for residents

We just ran across a nifty video by the City of Shakopee. A video on driving on a roundabout is a  great reason to produce a city video. It’s actually helpful to residents! Anyone who’s approached a roundabout for the first time knows the apprehension that’s created because we wonder when it’s safe to enter it, how to get out of it, who has the right of way, and what if I get caught inside it?

Ensure taxes are well spent through alternate bids

Competitive bidding ends potholes | Bye Bye Potholes
Well, somebody has a sense of humor about potholes!

Given the limits of Local Government Aid from the state and given the enormous needs for fixing infrastructure and streets, how can city councils ensure that taxes go the distance?  Consider alternate bids for street projects.

Truly competitive, or “alternate,” bids, from asphalt and concrete companies may result in savings, both in the short run and long run.

The bidding involves equivalent designs and then doing life-cycle analyses for based on the bids.

A few key things to understand from cities (and counties) who are placing concrete:

1) Concrete might cost more upfront (often not, though!), but your city will discover that it’s almost maintenance-free.

2) Concrete is rigid so it’s perfect for streets and intersections where there’s lots of traffic. And it holds up through our seasonal freeze-thaw cycle and doesn’t break into potholes.

4) Pavement experts everywhere know that concrete is as legitimate a choice as asphalt for streets.

What would it hurt to request both asphalt and concrete bids? You might be delighted to discover that concrete provides better value for your tax dollars.

Want to end potholes? Get in on city budget talks now.

Yes, we can end potholes!  For citizens intent on getting rid of potholes, now is the time to ask questions about 1) money needed to fix roads and 2) design alternatives that could save money. City and county officials throughout the state are now poring through reams of budget documents as they prepare to finalize plans for next year’s budget.

To balance their budgets, cities faced with tough financial choices often turn to a combination of a combination of strategies, according to the recently revised League of Minnesota Cities “Budget Balancing Strategies for Cities: A Resource Guide.”

These are likely to include:

  • Reducing or even eliminating some services;
  • Increasing reliance on user fees and other non-aid, non-tax sources of revenue;
  • Developing a transitional fiscal strategy;
  • Pursuing alternative service delivery methods; and
  • Finding more efficient ways to operate the city.

These same strategies will likely be used by counties, as well.

When it comes to planned road construction and or maintenance, elected officials historically turn to a delay strategy or one of short-term fixes covering as many miles as possible. Yet there is a concrete alternative that can stretch the life-span of a road with little repair required.

In 2015, KSTP-TV ran a story about how Minneapolis streets are continuing a 15-year decline. In the story, a city engineer commented that the strategy of doing short-term maintenance over more miles has not been effective as the number of required repairs is multiplying in the city.

Recent University of Minnesota studies in Olmsted and Waseca counties show that the use of concrete pavement saved up to 19 percent in the long run over the cost of using and maintaining similar asphalt roads.

The same studies shows that maintenance costs were reduced 75% when concrete was used to pave roads in these counties. Ask the engineers who oversee concrete streets or highways and they’ll tell you they rarely need to repair or patch that concrete over 20 to 30 years.

Given these studies, taxpayers ought to be asking their elected officials some questions that could potentially reframe the talks about the best way to build and maintain roads.

Here are a few to start with and now is the time to ask them:

  • How many miles of road does the city/county maintain and what’s the breakdown between the miles of road constructed with asphalt and the miles of road constructed with concrete?
  • How much money, if any, could be saved by altering that ratio?
  • How much money does the city or county spend each year to repair potholes? Again, if the ratio of asphalt to concrete roads were changed, how much money could be saved?
  • Most cities and counties seek competitive bids on their road construction projects. Does your city or county require bids to include an alternative design component? A design for an asphalt road is quite different than a design for a concrete road (see the two bids in this blog post).

According to a 2012 American Public Works Association report , allowing alternative standards for asphalt and concrete materials in the bidding process can often lead to reduced cost and an increase in a projects’ sustainability rating.


Rain, freezing temps: how potholes form next spring

How potholes form | Bye Bye Potholes
Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

Ever wonder how potholes form? This week’s weather forecast – rain followed by freezing temps – could be setting Minnesotans up for a bumper crop of potholes next spring.

The water from this week’s rain will seep through the cracks in the asphalt road. When that freezes, the water expands, weakening the pavement above. Even small cracks in the road allow water to seep below the surface. Add the weight of cars and trucks driving over the weakened pavement and voila – you have a pothole.

Just how big those potholes will get depends on how much water seeps below the surface and how many times it freezes and thaws between now and next spring.

It’s simple physics.

Think about what happens when you leave a can of pop in the freezer. The pop, which consists mostly of water, expands as it freezes and bursts the can. It’s how potholes form too.

Eliminating potholes will take a change in the way Minnesotans and their elected officials think about their roads. Specifically, it will take a shift in how Minnesota cities and counties construct their roads.

Until 2008, asphalt captured roughly 94 percent of all pavements in the U.S. market. During this time, asphalt enjoyed a lower initial bid and a life-cycle paving cost advantage over concrete, according to a Portland Cement Association (PCA) analysis using Wisconsin DOT’s paving software.

Since 2003, liquid asphalt prices have increased by more than 200% and concrete only 37% — yet some city, county and even state bidding practices fail to include concrete in their bidding process.

Alternative pavement design components for street project bids allow elected officials to compare the real, long-term costs of using asphalt as well as concrete. In other words, it allows them to compare apples-to-apples in an apples-and-oranges bidding environment.

Potholes and asphalt go hand in hand; potholes do not form in concrete. If your city is serious about reducing the number of street repairs, orange cones, traffic delays, complaints and car damage year after year, start paving with concrete. Once it’s placed, public works departments don’t have to touch it again for at least 20 years, at which time minor repairs might be needed.

Alternative pavement design makes taxes go distance

City council meeting | Bye Bye PotholesCity and county officials across the state have begun to establish their budget priorities for the 2016 road construction season. Armed with engineer reports and recommendations, your elected officials will hold public hearings to determine which roads to fix, which to replace and which to put on next year’s wish list.

As with past budgets, the vast array of road projects demanding immediate attention will likely exceed the funds available to fix them. And there won’t be much additional help from the state. The two-year budget adopted by state lawmakers in May 2015 ($5.5 billion over two years) essentially kept transportation funding at current levels. So how can local officials make our taxes go the distance?

While most cities and counties will require their engineering departments to seek competitive bids from asphalt contractors for the work to be done, many won’t think to ask for alternative pavement design, or “alternate bids,” to add concrete to the competitive bidding mix. They should: More and more cities are pleasantly surprised when they review a concrete alternative and see the value concrete provides.

Alternative pavement design components in a bid allow elected officials to compare the real, long-term costs of using asphalt as well as concrete. In other words, it allows them to compare apples-to-apples in and apples-and-oranges bidding environment.

Here’s an example of alternate bids for a 2014 project in Waseca County. You can see what we mean by an apples to oranges comparison; bituminous (asphalt) and concrete are quite different materials. The concrete bid was $100K cheaper and selected by the county board.

Alternate 1

  • 12,555 CY Common Excavation
  • 3,930 CY Subgrade Excavation
  • 7,780 CY Select Granular Borrow
  • 5,680 CY Excavate & Dispose of Contaminated Soil
  • 7,025 CY Aggregate Base Class 5
  • 4,750 TON Type SP 12.5 Wear Course Mixture (3,C)
  • 3,270 TON Type SP 12.5 Non-Wear Course Mixture (3,C)
  • 7,300 LF Concrete Curb Design B618

Alternate 2

  • 11,050 CY Common Excavation
  • 1,240 CY Excavate & Dispose of Contaminated Soil
  • 4,450 CY Aggregate Base Class 5
  • 6,975 LF Integrant Curb Design B6
  • 21,050 SY Concrete Pavement (6.5″-8.0″)
  • 8,480 POUND Reinforcement Bars

In another bid for a similar project, the concrete bid was higher on the front end but approved by the county board because it concrete was cheaper over the life of that road.

The design comes first followed by a life cycle cost analysis.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, cities and counties are showing great returns on their decision to include alternative pavement design in their bidding process. One 3.3-mile concrete overlay project in Southern Minnesota showed a savings of $275,000 over the projected life cycle of the road. That’s a savings of more than $80,000 per mile!

Competitive bidding in and of itself should stimulate competition and result in better overall pricing – especially when one factors in maintenance costs over the life expectancy of the road. By giving both asphalt and concrete contractors a shot at the work, Minnesotans can expect a higher return on their investment.

Ask your city or county representative to include alternative pavement design into the bidding process for your streets. Tell them it will make your taxes go the distance.

Millennials not responsible for potholes

In an earlier post, we wrote about the challenge of relying on gas taxes when people are driving fewer miles and paying less for gas. Check out this quick story from Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio relating less driving by Millennials to ultimately, more potholes!

Gas taxes | Bye Bye PotholesHow hard do the old-timers work to make millennials look like jerks? Really hard.

Take a new report out from Standard & Poor’s on the state of U.S. roads, which is built on this foundation.

Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by 16 to 34 year olds dropped by 23 percent, due to young people taking fewer trips, shorter trips and a larger share of trips by modes other than driving, according to an October 2014 report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group.

And when they do drive, they are driving the smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that are available today — compared to the cars available to previous generations at the same age — and also taking advantage of the rise of car-share and ride-sharing programs.

Essentially, millennials are doing what the country’s leaders have been trying to get Americans to do since we started lining up at gas pumps during the Arab oil embargo of the ’70s.

Now try to follow Standard & Poor’s logic here. Because millennials don’t drive as much, they use less gasoline. And because they use less gasoline, they pay less gasoline taxes. And because they pay less gasoline taxes, there’s not as much revenue to maintain infrastructure. And because there’s not much revenue to maintain infrastructure, the infrastructure begins to collapse.

Who’s fault is that, according to Standard & Poor’s? Not the politicians who don’t have the political courage to raise the gasoline tax. Not the mostly grey-haired crowd who won’t let them.

Read more at Minnesota Public Radio.

2010 Hutchinson concrete street reconstruction like new

Hutchinson street reconstruction | Bye Bye Potholes

Project description

In 2010, McLeod County and the City of Hutchinson completed a concrete street reconstruction project involving Washington Avenue E. and Adams Street SE in Hutchinson. The project was part of a turnback agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation after the state built a new Highway 22 (formerly running along Adams Street and part of Washington Avenue).  With a turnback, MnDOT typically agrees to fund reconstruction of the road it is giving to counties or cities.

For this project, the engineers felt concrete was the best solution, given that a total reconstruction was needed. Utilities were being upgraded and Adams Street was severely deteriorated due to truck traffic from the nearby 3M plant. The city also wanted to add streetscaping and a concrete multi-use trail. Adams Street and the sidewalk are shown above.

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. 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 five years ago.

Project details

The concrete street reconstruction project began in May 2010 and ended in November 2010. The total cost was $4.35 million; MnDOT contributed $3.66 million in turnback funds while the city paid the rest. The project components included the new concrete roadway pavement, curb and gutter, sidewalks, storm and sanitary sewers, water main, street lighting, and boulevard trees.

The project called for eight inches of concrete on an eight-inch aggregate base. City Engineer Kent Exner said they’ve learned to make sidewalks smooth for multi-mode use by sawing it in five-foot panels and using rebar to keep the concrete in place. He also said he is likely to consider concrete paving again for future street reconstruction projects.

Project team

Owner: McLeod County (Adams Street) and city of Hutchinson (Washington Ave.)
Project engineers: John Brunkhorst, McLeod County; Kent Exner, City of Hutchinson
General contractor: R & R Excavating
Concrete paver: Hoffman Concrete
Ready mix producer: Knife River



Infrastructure investments give states a competitive advantage

ows_144417292289462By Editorial Board, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minnesota lawmakers hit the brakes instead of the accelerator on transportation funding this year, and that’s regrettable. But there’s some consolation in knowing that not every state has stalled on critical infrastructure.

Fifteen states passed major transportation packages in 2015. Seven raised gasoline taxes. Eight raised various driving fees. Four launched bonding programs to finance new roads or transit projects. Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature in 10 of those 15 states, including six that raised taxes.

Among the highlights:

• Iowa (Republican governor and House) hiked the gas tax by a dime a gallon to pay for better roads. South Dakota and Idaho (both solidly Republican) raised the gas tax by 6 and 7 cents, respectively. Utah (solidly Republican) added a nickel, then converted all of its per-gallon tax to a 12 percent charge on fuel at the wholesale level. It also offered counties the option of raising sales taxes to finance transit and other non-car choices.

• Washington (Democratic governor and House) passed an ambitious $16.3 billion package aimed at building and fixing roads over the next 16 years while adding transit options. To pay for improvements, legislators raised the gas tax by 11.9 cents and authorized a referendum for a $15 billion expansion of Seattle’s rail transit system.

• Arizona (solidly Republican) failed to pass a roads package, but Phoenix-area voters approved a 0.3 percent increase in the local sales tax as part of a $31.5 billion plan to repair local streets and expand light rail over the next 35 years. The ballot included a map showing voters exactly which projects would be built.

The overall picture is one of states rallying to fix crumbling roads as low gas prices and improved fuel efficiency continue to eat away at revenue, and as Congress continues to avoid a comprehensive solution. Finding substitutes for per-gallon taxes is a trend in many states. Some are also pushing ahead to offer alternatives to driving while others (notably North Carolina) have tried to discourage choices other than cars.

Read more in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Fewer drivers, miles reduce gas tax revenue

gas pumpIn Minnesota, three taxes provide most of the money used for road construction and maintenance: the state’s gas tax (first enacted in 1925), its motor vehicle registration tax and the motor vehicle sales tax.

Elected officials – at the city, county and state levels – rely on these funds to maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure, from filling potholes to repairing failing bridges.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the state’s 28.6-cent-per-gallon gas tax brought in $860 million in 2013, while the vehicle-registration tax collected $622 million and the motor vehicle sales tax raised $359 million.

Of the three taxes collected, the gas tax is perhaps the most controversial and from a fiscal perspective the most worrisome. Its ability to generate revenue has been declining here and elsewhere since 2004, widening the gap between needed repairs and our ability to pay for them.

In fact, higher gas prices and environmental concerns have encouraged two related trends that exacerbate the revenue problems caused by a per-gallon gas tax: less driving and more fuel- efficient cars.

According to the Urban Institute: “First, vehicle miles driven per capita have declined every year since 2004. In 2008, total vehicle miles traveled fell for the first time since the 1970s oil crisis, and the total remains well below its 2007 peak. Second, newer cars and trucks sold in the United States get more miles per gallon. Both trends mean Americans are purchasing less gas, which results in lower gas tax revenue at constant per-gallon tax rates.”

Although Minnesota wasn’t the first state to enact a gas tax, its dependence on the gas tax dates back to 1925 when Minnesota lawmakers enacted the state’s first gas tax of 2-cents per gallon.

Oregon was the first state to enact a 5-cents per gallon gas tax; that was in 1919. In the following decade, all 48 states, along with the District of Columbia, had introduced a gasoline tax. By 1939, Minnesota’s gas tax was 4-cents per gallon compared to an average tax of 3.8-cents-per-gallon in other states.

Minnesota’s gas tax has been increased 16 times since 1925. Today, the state 28.6-cents-per-gallon gas tax is greater than the national average of 20.7 cents per gallon.

In 2015, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a 16-cent per gallon gas tax hike at the wholesale level. If adopted the gas tax hike would have been the largest in state history and at a rate of 44.5 cents in gas taxes give Minnesota the 5th highest gas tax nationally.

The idea failed to gain momentum at the Legislature, widening the projected gap between funding and the transportation needs of Minnesota cities, counties and the state.

For another perspective on the gas tax, check out this report from the research folks at the Heartland Institute. They say too much gas tax revenue is going to projects unrelated to roads.

Google to identify, track and map potholes

Pothole | Bye Bye PotholePotholes are more than irritants; they are becoming big business here and abroad.

Just ask Google.

In August, the tech giant filed a patent for a new technology for monitoring and reporting road quality. In other words, Google is positioning itself to be able to identify, track and map potholes across the country.

Money magazine reported that Google’s system would use the GPS from cars’ navigation systems in conjunction with another bump sensor that detects vertical movement to map out potholes. Then, the system uploads the data to the cloud.

The technology could give drivers real-time information to avoid potholes and the damage they cause. With more than 250 million cars on the nation’s roadways, that could save motorists millions of dollars a year.

According to the latest analysis from TRIP, a national research group, deteriorating roads nationwide cost the average driver $515 in extra operational and maintenance costs on their cars,

If every driver could avoid that additional operating and maintenance costs on their cars, the overall savings would be about $125 million a year.

Google isn’t the only one researching technology to help fix the nation’s pothole problem.

Christoph Mertz, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, has built a computer program that uses photos to detect cracks in street pavement. American Public Media recently reported that Mertz’s technology is currently being tested by the city of Pittsburgh, where city officials hope it will one day be a more reliable and cheaper alternative for maintaining roads

Across the Atlantic, researchers in the U.K. also are developing software that would allow cities to identify damaged roadways earlier. Using data collected by road surface scanners run by British engineering company Dynatest, the software analyzes two- and three- dimensional views of the road surface to identify symptoms of raveling, the term engineers use to describe the gradual breakdown of a road surface.

According to a report in the Atlantic City Lab, the technology these researchers are developing will eventually be open-source and could be adopted by governments and road authorities as part of their maintenance plans.

Trunk highway system funding a concern in 1920s

Minnesota Trunk Highway system 1923 | Bye Bye Potholes
1923 map of the Minnesota Trunk Highway system. Source: Minnesota Digital Library

The Minnesota trunk highway system was established in the 1920s and from the start, there was concern that revenue would not keep up with increasing traffic.

Minnesota’s Commissioner of Highways Charles M. Babcock included the following in his 1927-1928 Biennial Report of the Commission of Highways of Minnesota:

“If traffic burdens would remain as it is today (sic), we could in time do the necessary paving, grading and graveling with current funds. It is true that we would not get all of the needed improvements right away and would not complete the system for a great many years. But we would be making some progress.

“The difficulty is that each year we have a large addition to our traffic burden and while the new vehicles bring some additional revenue these vehicles are traveling the highways many months before the additional revenue can be transformed into highway improvements. As a result instead of catching up with traffic demands, our system is each year less adequate than before.”

Just a few years earlier, Minnesota voters had overwhelming approved a constitutional amendment establishing the state’s trunk highway system. Of the 7,000 miles designated as the system, 1,452 miles were still earth roads and another 4,726 miles were gravel roads with traffic ranging from 100 vehicles per day to 4,510 vehicles per day. Just 563 miles of the roads were paved.

Although that system has grown to about 12,000 miles, the debate about highway funding needs is resoundingly similar to what we hear today. In 1925, the highway commission asked Minnesota lawmakers to adopt a two-cent gas tax and authorize $20 million of state trunk highway bonds to fund road construction and maintenance for 1925 and 1926.

That was at the time when gasoline cost 20-cents per gallon and a new Ford Coupe about $520.

Miles of trunk highway system completed in first five years

The 1923-1929 Biennial Reports of Commission of Highways of Minnesota are filled with facts and figures that paint a picture of how the state’s transportation system was built, maintained and funded in the early days. The state had graded 3297.9 miles of road, graveled 3100.2 miles, paved 497.3 miles and worked on 13,655 lineal feet of bridges within five years for a cost of $53,380,667.

According to the 1925 report, the work was funded through county reimbursement bonds, federal aid and the state’s motor vehicle license tax.

The Minnesota trunk highway construction at the time wasn’t just about expanding the system. During those years, transportation officials were working to reduce miles between locations. Overall, there were eight projects to reduce distance, with original mileage at 224.8, a new distance of 186.9, a reduction of 37.9 miles or 16.89 percent.

“Assuming a very conservative average of 500 cars per day on the roads within the eight projects, the savings of 37.9 miles in distance resulted in a savings to car owners using these roads of $1,895 per day or $473,750 per year.”

By this time, the state reported that automobiles were the main users of the system – 92 percent of all traffic recorded.

The heaviest traveled route was Trunk Hwy 3 north from Minneapolis through Robbinsdale, with an average count of 6,101 vehicles a day.

Traffic on Trunk Hwy 1 between St Paul and While Bear Lake followed with 5,629 vehicles and the heaviest-traveled gravel section was Trunk Hwy No. 1 from White Bear through Hugo carrying 2,284 vehicles per day.

That said, transportation officials concluded: “A little more money put into better roads will be money well invested. It will bring three-fold returns in savings in fuel, tire wear and repairs.”

Leading the world in potholes and subway delays

Gas tax price comparisons | Bye Bye Potholes
Source: NRDC (National Resource Defense Council)

By Scott Slesinger, National Resources Defense Council

Barely two weeks before Congress approved a three-month patchwork extension of the Highway Trust Fund, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appeared on the Bloomberg television channel to reuse his favorite rallying cry for infrastructure funding.[i]

“America is one giant pothole,” he emphatically repeated. Although tens of thousands are moving to the nation’s urban centers and are looking for alternative transportation, our nation starves our infrastructure.

LaHood, the only Republican member of the Cabinet, did more than simply spout his turn of phrase, however: he used it to highlight the most common sense reason of all that the United States should raise its 18.4-cent federal gas tax, which was last set in 1993.[ii]

“You can’t tell me anything that has [not had a price increase] in 20 years,” LaHood said. “A dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, on and on and on. Everything has been increased, but the gas tax has not, and that is why America is one big pothole right now.”

LaHood is right. Prices have increased, largely across the board for consumer goods. Yet the gas tax–which provides the majority of the revenue for the Highway Trust Fund–has not.

A dozen eggs? In June 1993, those cost 92 cents. In June of 2014, those same eggs cost $1.95, an increase of over 100%. In June 2015, those eggs, thanks to a market hiccup caused by a bird flu outbreak, cost almost 180% more than they did in 1993.[iii]

How about a pound of ground roast coffee? In June 1993, $2.53 was what you paid for 16 ounces of caffeine-rich black gold. In June 2015, however, that price tripped up to $4.69, for slightly more than an 85% increase.

Since 1993, a pound of white sugar has increased by 62.5%. A movie ticket has increased by 97.34%.[iv] A flight from Washington-Reagan National has increased by 17.56%.[v] A new car or truck has increased by a whopping 163%.[vi]

gas tax | Bye Bye PotholesThe picture is simple: prices tend to go up. Some price increases soar over the amount that can be accounted for by inflation, which hovers around 65% for the period from 1993 to 2015. Some price increases, like the 28% price increase for a pound of chocolate chip cookies, fall under the inflation rate, but the increase still exists. Spend long enough playing with the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the Consumer Price Index and you’d be hard-pressed to find an item that has not increased in price to at least some degree since 1993.

Yet the gas tax, which is so critical to our nation’s infrastructure, has not increased. Not even to index it to inflation; according to the Tax Foundation, due to inflation the value of the gas tax is 36% lower than it was in 1994.[vii] To put it another way, if the gas tax had been indexed to inflation, the tax would currently sit at around 30 cents a gallon instead of 18.4 cents. If a 30 cent per gallon tax sounds unbearable, keep in mind that in 1959, President Eisenhower raised the gas tax to four cents, which is the equivalent of 33 cents today.[viii]

Critically, rising prices have affected construction costs. These costs have risen since 1993 while the gas tax has remained static, with catastrophic consequences for our nation’s infrastructure. While part of the problem is that cars are more efficient–meaning they need less gas–even more problematic is growing difference between construction costs and gas tax revenue. As [my colleague] Rob Perks pointed out in a 2013 blog, a 2013 report by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy found that:

Read the rest of this story on  NRDC’s Switchboard blog

Request alternative designs for street projects


It won’t be long before city and county officials across the state begin to establish their budget priorities for the 2016 road construction season. Armed with engineer reports and recommendations, they’ll hold public hearings to determine which roads to fix, which to replace and which to put on next year’s wish list.

As with past budgets, the vast array of road projects demanding immediate attention will likely exceed the funds available to fix them. And there won’t be much additional help from the state. The two-year budget adopted by state lawmakers in May ($5.5 billion over two years) essentially kept transportation funding at current levels.

Traditionally, transportation experts here and elsewhere have relied on and called for bids from asphalt contractors. Asphalt, a byproduct of oil, was considerably cheaper than concrete for many years. Since 1999, however, the price of asphalt increased 120 percent while the price of concrete went up a mere 33 percent (see chart here).

The result, which city councils and county boards are painfully aware of, is that they’ve been spending more and more tax dollars to pave fewer and fewer miles of road.

While most cities and counties will require their engineering departments to seek competitive bids for the work to be done, many won’t think to require an alternative design component to the competitive bidding process.

As the cost between asphalt and concrete narrows, that could prove to be shortsighted. The alternative design components allow elected officials to compare the real, long-term costs of using asphalt or concrete. In other words, it allows them to compare apples-to-apples in and apples-and-oranges bidding environment.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, cities and counties are showing great returns on their decision to include the alternative design model into the bidding process. One 3.3-mile concrete overlay project in Southern Minnesota showed a savings of $275,000 over the projected life cycle of the road. That’s more than $80,000 per mile saved.

Competitive bidding in and of itself should stimulate competition and result in better overall pricing – especially when one factors in maintenance costs over the life expectancy of the road. By giving both asphalt and concrete contractors a shot at the work, Minnesotans can expect a higher return on our investment.

If you’re an elected official, ask your engineer for a life cycle analysis. If you’re a citizen, email this blog post to your city or county representative.

Duluth street reconstruction project a model for state

By Fred Corrigan, executive director, Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota

Duluth isn’t alone when it comes to the need for street repairs. Unlike many other cities, however, Duluth’s mayor and City Council members have taken an aggressive, proactive approach in their fight to fix, maintain and even improve crumbling streets.

An estimated 15 to 20 miles of city streets are being fixed each year. That’s quite an accomplishment for a community that once considered five miles of road repairs a good year. And this at a time when the city is dealing with the loss of about $6 million it once received through a casino revenue-sharing agreement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Duluth is to be commended for its efforts to maintain and improve city streets and infrastructure. One project, in particular, the planned reconstruction of Superior Street from Sixth Avenue West to Fourth Avenue East, may very well serve as a model for other cities and counties.

Running through the heart of downtown, Superior Street is one of Duluth’s oldest streets and is a major connector for commerce and tourism. Each day more than 11,000 vehicles travel over the brick pavers that have donned the street for more than 20 years. In 2013, portions of the brick were removed and replaced with asphalt due to deterioration. At that time, city officials said the temporary solution was initiated with the understanding that a long-term design process would be taken, and the public was encouraged to be involved.

Since then, five public hearings were held with well over 100 people attending each meeting. At least one more public meeting I’m aware of is scheduled before a final plan emerges.

The city no doubt has had to consider competing interests each step of the way, including parking needs, pedestrian use and traffic flow. And it’s heartening to know city leaders have listened to the people who have taken the time to participate in the process and offer their feedback on proposed design alternatives.

Current plans call for diagonal parking on the upper side of Superior Street and parallel parking on the lower side. And, to make the streetscape more inviting for people, the city has looked to provide space for outdoor dining, trees, shrubs, flowers, benches and public art. Below the surface, the existing water and sewer lines, first installed in the 1880s and 1890s, will be replaced. Above ground, those bricks probably will be replaced by a brighter decorative concrete design.

With proper maintenance, it should be another 40 years before the city will have to tackle another Superior Street reconstruction project.

The city’s transparency throughout this whole process has been commendable. In addition to encouraging public participation, city leaders have been diligent in their efforts to keep the public fully abreast as the project develops.

Visitors to the project’s website — duluthmn.gov/planning/superior-street — can find project presentations, summaries of each public hearing, survey results and even a compilation of individual responses to questionnaires about the project.

While the overall price tag of the street’s reconstruction, including the utility infrastructure below, could be as much as $20 million, once completed, the project will properly showcase downtown Duluth to residents and visitors.

And those first impressions do matter in a city that boasts about 3.5 million tourists each year with an estimated economic impact of $780 million.

In his 2011 State of the City speech, Mayor Don Ness talked about the importance of investing in the city’s streets and infrastructure and the cost of failing to do so.

“Decades of pinching pennies on infrastructure now forces us to spend massive amounts of tax dollars to do nothing more than provide an emergency patch,” he said. “After decades of neglect, we are now paying the price.”

Unfortunately, Ness was right. Decades of neglect are forcing many Minnesota cities to turn to quick fixes or pavement alternatives that cost less initially but are not as long-lasting and may result in more costs in the long run.

That’s just one more reason to admire the Superior Street reconstruction project. City officials aren’t looking for a quick fix; they’re looking for a long-term, concrete solution to their transportation infrastructure needs.

Well done, Duluth.

Questions? Comments? Contact Fred Corrigan – 952-707-1250.


Potholes damage cars but motorists rarely reimbursed

Cities and counties in Minnesota make it fairly easy for motorists to report potholes that require fixing. Just call 311 or submit a form online on their websites. But when potholes damage cars, municipalities make it much harder to seek reimbursement.

Existing laws don’t make reimbursement easy either. Here, authorities are only responsible for pothole damage if they’ve been notified about the pothole and didn’t fix it within a reasonable amount of time.

Whether it’s the process for seeking reimbursement or the laws themselves, Minnesota transportation officials say it’s extremely rare for a claim to be paid.

A recent insurance industry survey backs that up. The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America found that that just 3 percent who sought reimbursement were able to get local authorities to pick up the tab and of the people who filed an insurance claim, over half paid out of pocket.

How much?

Deteriorating roads nationwide cost the average driver $515 in extra operational and maintenance costs on their cars, according to the latest analysis from TRIP, a national research group.

Or as a report in the Washington Post put it: Those cracks and potholes put a lot of extra wear and tear on your car. They wear your tires away faster, and they decrease your gas mileage too.

And, according to the insurance industry survey, half of car owners in the U.S. say they’ve had damage done to their car because of a pothole over the last five years. That group put the price tag at $27 million for the same time period.

To the unsuspecting motorists, one could say the numbers translate into highway robbery.

Perhaps it’s time for the government entities responsible for the repair and maintenance of our roadways to pay up.

Current policies – at the local, state and national levels – provide few fiscal incentives for our elected officials to resolve our transportation funding issues. While there is widespread agreement that our roads are deteriorating faster they can be maintained, there is little agreement on how to best fund and manage the transportation system.

Maybe it’s time for taxpayers to up the ante in this decades-old debate about where the money to fix our roads should come from by requiring cities, counties, townships and the state to reimburse motorists for actual damages caused by poor road maintenance.

If each of the more 3.3 million drivers in Minnesota, submitted claims for damages and the extra maintenance and operational costs, the price tag could easily exceed $1.5 billion annually.

Facing those added expenses, perhaps our elected officials would finally get the message: Let’s say goodbye to the potholes and fix our broken transportation system.

Two life cycle cost analysis tools to try

life cycle cost analysis | bye bye potholes

Talk with any elected official and they’ll tell you taxpayers are looking to get the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to the cost of government. That includes the cost of building and repairing our roads.

That’s one reason city, county and state officials often require a life cycle cost analysis when bidding out road construction or repair projects. The tool helps them determine whether using asphalt or concrete materials on a particular road project is the more cost-effective, sustainable investment.

The life cycle cost analysis considers the pavement’s initial cost, as well as the projected maintenance and reconstruction costs over the life of the road, which is a pre-determined timeframe. 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?

According to a 2012 American Public Works Association report, allowing alternative standards for asphalt and concrete materials in the bidding process can often lead to reduced cost and an increase in a projects’ sustainability rating.

The concrete industry itself acknowledges that its product often has a higher initial cost than asphalt, but points to life cycle cost analyses to show that concrete generally has a longer useful service life and fewer maintenance costs over the life of the project. Read more here.

But the cost is just one measure of sustainability. What about the environmental impact of a road project?

Another tool being used by some engineers and elected officials to help them determine the societal cost of competing materials, such as concrete and asphalt is the environmental life cycle assessment. This rating includes the environmental impacts of using either concrete or asphalt, including resources depleted, air emissions, water emissions, solid wastes, and energy consumption.

Two tools, two very different assessments. The life cycle costs analysis measures the cost-benefit ratio; the environmental life cycle assessment helps measure the environmental footprint of a road project. Yet both tools are available to help determine whether using concrete or asphalt materials will give taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck.


Red Wing curbs effect of road construction on main street

It’s understandable that local business owners are deeply concerned about the effect of road construction on their main street businesses. Customers don’t like detours, big trucks and equipment, or noise. They will choose to shop someplace else without some exceptional encouragement.

This summer and next, Highway 61 in Red Wing, Minn. is being torn up right through the heart of downtown. Infrastructure is being replaced and concrete paving is being placed. This highway runs in front of the famous St. James Hotel.

In anticipation of community questions about the effect of road construction on main street businesses, the Red Wing Republic Eagle newspaper created a wonderful interactive section to inform readers. This information assuages people’s concerns that downtown might be impassable or parking impossible.

One of the things to know is that the Republic Eagle is owned by Forum Communications, which also owns dozens of daily and weekly newspapers throughout Minnesota. Among them are the Bemidji Pioneer, Brainerd Dispatch, Duluth News Tribune, West Central Tribune, Worthington Daily Globe, and the Alexandria Echo Press. If the Red Wing newspaper can create this interactive page on the website, your local newspaper probably has the capacity to do so as well if it’s owned by Forum Communications. All you need to do is ask your editor to talk to the Red Wing editor about how to make it work; these editors are like siblings in a large family. Your editor may be willing to do this because it is a tremendous public service and will keep people coming back to the news website again and again.

Some cities choose to create their own web pages addressing road construction, but it actually makes a great deal of sense to have the local newspaper do this instead because it has staff geared to writing well, designing pages, and making news updates. Many cities do not have the staff to support these kind of web pages.

In addition to this interactive web page by the newspaper, the City of Red Wing also created a fun video to make their point that businesses are open for business.

Construction project team
Owner: MnDOT
General Contractor: Doyle Connor
Base aggregate suppliers: Cemstone, Holst Aggregate
Ready mix concrete supplier: Cemstone

7 benefits of concrete paving

Our friends at the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota (CPAM) describe well the seven benefits of concrete.

Concrete costs less in the long run

  • Federally funded studies show that concrete Interstate pavements cost 13-28% less in the long run than asphalt Interstate pavements.
  • U of M studies on Olmsted and Waseca counties show that maintenance costs were reduced 75% when concrete was used to pave roads in these counties.
  • The same studies shows that maintenance costs were reduced 75% when concrete was used to pave roads in these counties.
  • Advancements in concrete technology have reduced the cost of concrete paving while improving performance greatly; advancements in asphalt technology (so-called “SuperPave” mixtures) have increased paving costs significantly (even before considering skyrocketing oil prices) with only modest increases in performance.

Concrete lasts longer with less need for maintenance and repair

  • No potholes – so concrete pavements stay smoother longer.
  • No ruts form to fill with water and cause wet weather accidents. Fewer traffic interruptions for repair and maintenance.
  • MnDOT reports that the average life expectancy of their concrete pavements is 27.5 years before repair while that of their asphalt pavements is 15.5 before repair.
  • Federally funded studies show that concrete Interstate highways around the U.S. last about 2.5 times longer on average than asphalt Interstate highways.
  • New Minnesota concrete pavement designs are expected to last for 60+ years with minimal maintenance.

Concrete costs less for users

  • Heavy trucks get up to 20% better mileage on concrete.
  • Better long-term performance means fewer interruptions and lower user costs.
  • Concrete roads are not subject to spring load restrictions that increase the number of truck trips or driving distances.

Concrete is quiet

  • After years of testing and research, MnDOT has adopted concrete paving designs and techniques that make concrete roads as quiet as most asphalt roads.

Concrete is safer

  • Concrete provides better and longer lasting skid resistance.
  • No rutting or potholes to cause loss of vehicle control.
  • Concrete offers better visibility on rainy nights.
  • Concrete is generally less slippery in wet weather.

Concrete is environmentally friendly

  • Concrete is completely recyclable.
  • Concrete doesn’t release odorous petroleum products into the air.
  • Concrete conserves oil, which is used to produce asphalt pavements.
  • Replacing asphalt pavements with concrete can help to lower summertime temperatures.
  • Concrete reflects sunlight instead of absorbing it.
  • The “heat island” effect seen in large cities has been attributed, in part, to the use of asphalt pavements.

Concrete is aesthetically pleasing

  • Concrete pavements have a clean appearance and brighten neighborhoods, both day and night!
  • Concrete can be colored and textured to produce attractive designs and patterns

To learn more about the MnDOT studies mentioned above, contact Matt Zeller at the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota.

Concrete pavement specifications remove guesswork

For many years, city engineers struggled to find a way to design local streets that did not rely on the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) concrete pavement specifications. It was written for state highways and required thicker concrete and more on-site inspections than is necessary for local streets.

Every time a city wanted to lay concrete pavement, it had to work out its own solution. This created inconsistency and confusion for contractors and concrete producers. Also, every unique design had unique costs. Finally, cities couldn’t turn to each other for advice because they used their own designs.

Let’s face it: Under those circumstances, concrete projects were daunting for even the most experienced engineers and contractors.

It’s different now.

In 2012, the Minnesota Concrete Flatwork (pavement) Specifications for Local Government Agencies, written by Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), were issued by the MnDOT State Aid Office. These specifications make working with a concrete more user-friendly.

Like a recipe, this off-the-shelf specification takes all the guesswork out. It ensures more efficient work and better results for city projects like concrete streets, curbs and gutters, driveway aprons, and sidewalks and medians. It addresses materials, mixes, execution, curing, testing and more.

The concrete pavement specifications recognize the differences between major highways and local streets. They also take advantage of the technical expertise of MnDOT in staying current with state-of-the-art concrete production and placement.

Further, according to Fred Corrigan, executive director of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association, “The specifications acknowledge that more and more cities are not replacing their inspectors who retire or leave.

“Under these guidelines, local agency inspectors become contract managers while the contractors become concrete experts who are completely responsible for the quality of the work.”

Maria Masten, a MnDOT pavement engineer with the Office of Materials and Road Research, participated in the creation of the concrete specifications  to “provide uniformity from project to project between local agencies who let the projects, and contractors, producers, consultants, and independent testing companies how work on projects.”

She also pointed out that the specifications allow a local government agency to raise the bar on their projects with a consistent and uniform method.

Here are the Minnesota Concrete Flatwork Specifications.

Woodbury’s 30-year concrete intersection

An interview with Jacob Gave, PE, who was Washington County engineer in charge of a 2012 concrete intersection project in Woodbury, Minn. This is the busiest intersection in Washington County. 

What was the problem?

County State Aid Highway 16, known as Valley Creek Road to suburban Woodbury (Minn.) residents, is heavily traveled and needed repair. Sections of the road had been milled and overlayed in the late 1990s and by 2012 required a lot of work. CSAH 16 crosses CSAH 13 (Radio Drive); it’s the busiest intersection in the county road network. CSAH 13 on both sides of CSAH 16 was recently repaved. However, the pavement repair inside the intersections was delayed until this 2012 project. For one neighborhood, Valley Creek Road is the only entrance.

What was the solution?

We chose to place concrete for a 1.42-mile stretch of this 2.57-mile project from Bielenberg Drive to Interlachen Parkway because it crosses the intersection and was in the worst shape. Valley Creek Road from Interlachen Parkway to CSAH 19 (Woodbury Drive) was reconstructed and expanded in the mid-90s. We did a life cycle cost analysis and compared it to traditional bituminous pavement rehabilitation methods such as remove and replace, and full-depth reclamation.

Concrete was selected for the western portion of the project because of the deteriorated pavement conditions and the amount of traffic that Valley Creek Road handles. Concrete requires less maintenance during its service life and, therefore, requires less impact to traffic. While there are significant traffic impacts during the initial paving process, the longer frequency between maintenance projects made concrete the favorable choice in this situation.

Key facts about the project

The county placed 8,300 cubic yards of structural concrete and 60,000 square yards of concrete pavement. All but 278 square yards of the pavement was 5” thick. A proprietary blend of ready-mix concrete cured within 12 hours. The county started the overlay on August 1, 2012, and it was done by late October. The cost was $3.268 million. It’s expected to last 30 years.

The project team:
Owner: Washington County
County Design Engineer: Jake Gave, PE
Contractor: McCrossan
Ready Mix supplier: Aggregate Industries

Listen to Tom Schmid of Aggregate Industries talk about the special quick-set concrete from the project site in 2012.




The science of road construction detours

orange cones | Bye Bye Potholes

The Art and Science of Road Construction Detours

By Bill Lindeke, MinnPost

The word “detour” comes from the French, meaning “to turn away” or “change direction.” But it can also mean “evasion” or “excuse,” and as any driver knows, Minnesota’s contracted construction season can be synonymous with frustration.

Though it might seem like a simple matter of erecting orange signs, creating good detours can be maddeningly complex. How long will the road be closed? What kinds of roads are the nearest alternatives? What to do about unpredictable bicycles and pedestrians?

As technology starts to help with problems of getting good information to drivers, ensuring good detours might smooth out the messy reality of road construction.

Detours and induced demand

Probably the craziest detour in Minnesota history was the impromptu rerouting following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. Needless to say, the 2007 bridge tragedy was completely unexpected, and forced state agencies to reroute 150,000 cars per day into other parts of the Twin Cities’ freeway system.

As it turned out, however, the detours worked surprisingly well. A University of Minnesota study determined that average commute times increased only marginally, less than half a minute on average.

Those unexpected results stemmed from two counterintuitive facets of detour construction. The first is the phenomenon of “induced demand,” or the dynamic relationship between road capacity and people’s willingness to drive. Simply put, the more available capacity on the road, the more likely that people will choose to drive; conversely, the less capacity, the less likely the car trip. That means that expanding roads might create more traffic, while reducing travel lanes might decrease traffic at the margins.

The first is the phenomenon of “induced demand,” or the dynamic relationship between road capacity and people’s willingness to drive. Simply put, the more available capacity on the road, the more likely that people will choose to drive; conversely, the less capacity, the less likely the car trip. That means that expanding roads might create more traffic, while reducing travel lanes might decrease traffic at the margins.

According to David Levinson, the engineering professor at the University of Minnesota who worked on the study, the I-35W bridge was a great example of “reduced demand” (the opposite of “induced demand”) where “about 1/3 of the trips across the river ‘disappeared,’ and were either foregone or went to different destinations.”

Well-connected roads an asset

The second conclusion is that the Twin Cities’ road system actually has a well-connected road network, relatively speaking. During a detour, most Twin Cities drivers are able to find alternative routes.”

Read more in MinnPost.

Is concrete more expensive than asphalt?

It used to be that the answer to “Is concrete more expensive than asphalt?” was an automatic “yes,” at least when comparing initial costs.

This was historically true until a decade ago when asphalt prices started to rise. In fact, the price of asphalt has more than doubled since 1999. Even though concrete pricing became more competitive with each passing year, very few city, county or DOT engineers seriously considered switching to using concrete or even bidding it. They just paid more to pave fewer and fewer miles. Is it any wonder that our roads are in such poor shape?

Let’s face it: We all have blind spots. In this case, it’s assuming concrete is more expensive than asphalt and blindly absorbing a 100% price increase.

Our local officials and engineers need an “ah hah” moment when it comes to assuming that concrete is more expensive than asphalt. So let’s give it to them. Share with them the chart and the benefits of concrete paving. Ask them to get concrete as well as asphalt bids for the next round of street repair projects.

Make sure the bids are an apples-to-apples comparison. Engineers sometimes specify more concrete or more base material than is actually needed (see MnDOT’s Minnesota Concrete flatwork Specifications for Local Governments). Also, have the bids factor in annual and periodic maintenance costs, like pothole repairs, over the next 20 years. You’ll see that the concrete saves cities and counties money in the long run.

Keep in mind that this chart is a “cost index,” so we’re comparing the price of bituminous to itself year after year (which is measured in tons), and the price of concrete to itself year after year (which is measured in cubic yards).

Video: How potholes form in asphalt

Potholes form in asphalt, not concrete

When we say that asphalt and potholes go hand in hand, don’t take our word for it. Here’s a video by MnDOT about how potholes form.

Review the video and arm yourself with some knowledge about how potholes form in asphalt and how the problem is merely “filled,” not solved. And then you’ll know what city and county engineers know.

Pothole video transcript:

Here’s a cross-section of a typical pavement. The weight of each vehicle bends the pavement slightly. Small cracks form, first on the bottom of the asphalt because that gets stretched the most. As the asphalt is fatigued, cracks also form on the top surface.

Now, water on the pavement from rain or melted snow gets into the cracks. When the temperature drops, the water freezes and expands making the cracks deeper and wider. With more precipitation, more freeze-thaw cycles, and the continued vehicle loading, sooner or later the cracks go all the way through the pavement.

Now, water can get underneath the surface. When this subsurface water freezes and expands, it pushes the pavement up and weakens it even more. When the ice melts and contracts, it leaves a space, so we have a weakened pavement layer over a cavity. All that’s needed now is a good-sized vehicle, and there’s your pothole.

Potholes don’t form in concrete

Pothole shock | Bye Bye PotholesPeople believe they’re stuck with potholes forever. They smash into or avoid them. They rant and warn others about them. They watch crews patch and fill them. Year after year. People believe there’s nothing that can be done about potholes. Not true!

You can solve the pothole problem where you live by insisting that your city or county replace more and more asphalt streets with concrete. Potholes simply do not form in concrete.

It’s incredible, really, that every driver expects that the streets will be dug up and potholes will be filled throughout most of the year. We listen to the news to find out how to avoid single lanes and long delays.

Ask for concrete bids, especially around October or November when the city council is approving upcoming street repaving projects. Many cities and counties do not ask for both concrete and asphalt bids, which would otherwise set up a healthy competitive bidding situation between concrete and asphalt companies.

The League of Minnesota Cities has a useful Information Memo about competitive bidding, which supports our argument about getting concrete paving bids for municipal streets, parking lots, roundabouts, and intersections.

Imagine a drive to and from work month after month that doesn’t involve bumps, detours and repairs. Imagine free-flowing, smooth rides year after year. That’s what you’ll get with concrete paving.

You can do something about the persistent pothole problem: Persuade your local officials or city engineer to say “hello” to concrete and “goodbye” to potholes.

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