Four things to know about colored concrete for your next project

colored concrete | Bye Bye Potholes

Many city councils face decorating decisions when their city embarks on a downtown streetscape or similar project. One of the most common choices they make is using colored concrete to affordably jazz up plain gray concrete and public spaces.

To help cities make a good decision about colored concrete, we turned to two ARM members who are experts about this. They’ve seen city projects succeed and fail, and they know what works and doesn’t work to ensure your colored concrete looks great and lasts decades.

Here are four things they want you to know about colored concrete:

1. Choosing a color for concrete is NOT like choosing one for a bedroom wall.

The color pigment for concrete is mixed with natural elements like aggregates and portland cement. Crushed rock can range from pink, orange and tan to brown, dark green and gray. Portland cement can range from white to pinkish to dark gray. Your color is affected by those colors.

In contrast, when you choose a color for your wall, it’s consistent from gallon to gallon. It’s not like the black bristles of your brush add black to your Benjamin Moore paint.

Be sure to select your concrete color from a specific concrete color chart with specific names. Don’t refer to a paint company’s chart and names.

2.  Make sure the colored concrete comes from the same ready mix concrete plant.

If your concrete comes from different plants for a single project, you could end up with one shade of charcoal concrete at Main and 1st Streets, and another shade at Main and 3rd!

It is not unusual for a contractor to tap into a few different ready mix producers to complete a project, but you can end up with inconsistent colors (even with plain gray) when the concrete dries. One plant might use pinkish portland cement and another plant dark gray, for instance.

Using the same plant also ensures that the water-to-cement ratio is consistent from concrete batch to batch. City inspectors should make sure the contractor doesn’t add additional water at the job site because it can change the color in a single batch.

3.  Avoid reds, even though cities traditionally select it.

Red pigments interact with portland cement and aggregates in unpredictable ways due to the iron oxide that makes it red. Iron oxide also is a natural element.  The color pigment, the aggregates, the cement, the iron oxide: the mix can be like four kids squabbling for dominance of the t.v.

No other concrete color is as fussy as red. Reds can turn to rust, brick, cherry, pink, and even orange, as one city recently discovered. If you still want to choose red, use it sparingly and choose a reddish-brown, like “Marshfield,” a Scofield color.

Another reason for avoiding reds is because cities often do not seal their colored concrete every two to three years to maintain them and fussy reds, especially, don’t hold up well.

By choosing not to regularly seal your colored concrete, the new Streetscape you celebrated at your Grand Opening could look quite different by your third downtown Octoberfest event. (call-out quote)

4.  Choose contrasting colored concrete for the biggest impact and bang for your buck.

How about charcoal gray and tan with the traditional gray? The contrast can be very attractive, helpful to pedestrians and drivers, and as affordable as a single color.

Regular sealing, of course, will keep the contrast clear and bold over time.

Many thanks to ARM Associate Members Andy Pearson of SIKA®, an international chemical company, and Guy Peterson of Scofield, a division of SIKA® specializing in color pigments. They came up with these four points about colored concrete and know a great deal more.

Questions about colored concrete? Contact Guy Peterson of Scofield, who’s a walking encyclopedia about color pigments:

How paint is like a good concrete road

One-coat painted concrete | Bye Bye Potholes

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

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

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

Less work and less money in the long run

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

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

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

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

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

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


Are potholes bad for your car? They sure can be

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

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

5 car parts to check for damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six advantages of a concrete road

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

Here are six advantages of a concrete road.

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

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

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

Other advantages of a concrete road

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

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

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

Pothole damage costs U.S. drivers $3 billion annually

Pothole Damage A study from AAA reveals that potholes contribute to the cost of driving, with pothole damage costing U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years. This adds up to approximately $3 billion annually. AAA urges state and local governments to fully fund and prioritize road maintenance to reduce potholes and related repairs.

“In the last five years, 16 million drivers across the country have suffered 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.”

Middle and lower income drivers worry most about pothole damage

Middle- and lower-income individuals worry the most about potholes, according to AAA. Most survey respondents with annual incomes under $75,000 expressed the highest levels of concern. This is likely because pothole damage can lead to expensive, extensive repairs. Also, very few cities reimburse for pothole damage.

“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.”

AAA urges drivers have properly inflated tires with adequate tread depth to create a cushion from the potholes. Drivers should slow down, release the brakes and straighten steering before hitting a pothole. They need to be alert, scan the road and increase following distances behind the car in front of them.

Time to apply for state funds for local roads

County highway | Bye Bye Potholes

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is now accepting applications for state funds for local roads. About $23 million is available to cities, counties and townships for street projects scheduled for 2018, 2019 or 2020.

Previous projects funded through MnDOT’s Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP) include roundabouts, curve and roadway alignment, and resurfacing. Safety improvements such as turn lanes, traffic signals and rural intersection warning systems also received funding.

More details on the funds for local roads

This local roads program has three funding categories. They usually are directed to projects that not funded or only partly funded by other state or federal money:

  • Routes of Regional Significance funds go to constructing or reconstructing city streets, county highways or town roads that are of statewide or regional significance.
  • Rural Road Safety Account funds go to counties for projects that focus on reducing crashes, fatalities, injuries, or property damage.
  • Trunk Highway Corridor funds help local governments pay the local  share of trunk highway projects that have local costs.

The state funded 43 projects that fell within the first two categories in 2014. It only funded nine projects in these same categories in 2015. No trunk highway corridor projects received funds since 2003.

The 2015 funds went to projects in the counties of Clearwater, Douglas, Kandiyohi, and Rice; in the cities of Forest Lake, Golden Valley, Moose Lake and Sandstone, and in the township of Dovre.

The funds for local roads go through a competitive process that uses specific criteria, and also input from the Local Road Improvement Program Advisory Committee.

The deadline for counties and state aid cities (population greater than 5,000) is Nov. 3, 2017.

The deadline for non-state aid cities and townships is Dec. 1, 2017.

Learn more.

Check out a related blog post about Minnesota’s state aid road system.

Effective partners offer concrete, asphalt certification classes

asphalt certification class | Bye Bye Potholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnership with industry provides hands-on concrete and asphalt certification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concrete and asphalt certification courses moving online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For complete course descriptions, go to the ARM website.


Minneapolis reconstructs 29th Street as shared use street

29th St shared use street | 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 the state’ 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 a local artist to create “Rules of Play,” a colored concrete feature 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 project between Lyndale Avenue to Bryant Avenue in 2016. This spring’s work from Fremont Avenue South to Emerson Avenue South included new trees and sod. 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 and parking bays on the north side of the street. It also provides for 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 project, the city updated the storm sewer, and CenterPoint Energy relocated a gas main.

Removing contaminated soil an added project challenge

The city also hauled out 1,690 tons of contaminated soil from petroleum-based products. The area abuts the partially below-grade Midtown Greenway railroad trail now used by pedestrians and bicyclists.

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

The shared street project’s total cost was about $1 million. The City of Minneapolis paid for most of the project with net debt bonds (municipal bonds) and the balance through special assessments to nearby 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

Download the Case Study. 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 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

Mankato roundabouts | Bye Bye Potholes

Minnesota cities are choosing concrete pavement, especially for streets and roundabouts that lots of cars and trucks drive on. This choice means a reduction in potholes in the city because potholes don’t form in concrete.

Another reason for choosing concrete is that these cities are sprucing up the downtown area so it lasts a long time. You can find case studies about them by selecting “Cities in action” in the Categories box to the right.

A number of these cities choosing concrete pavement collaborated with their county or the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Those agencies provide concrete expertise that local city engineers often don’t have. Cities have mastered asphalt and the seal coating, pothole filling and resurfacing.

Working with concrete is quite different than working with asphalt, like baking a bundt cake is quite different than baking a cheesecake. They require different know-how and handling, as all bakers and home cooks quickly discover.

Most cities have zero or little experience with concrete for streets, but it doesn’t mean they can’t learn. We all resist learning something new at the risk of failing.

Choosing concrete pavement adds to cities’ roadway mix

Some cities are crazy about adding concrete to their roadway mix. Cottage Grove, for instance, is paving its sixth and seventh all-concrete roundabouts this summer. The city was the first in Minnesota to place a roundabout. It has a lot of asphalt streets and yet, prefers concrete for its roundabouts.

The Wells city council just plain prefers it because the streets last 40 years. Pipestone has placed concrete streets recently. The Fargo-Moorhead area has an increasing number of concrete streets. Minneapolis always has paved with both concrete and asphalt.

At some point, the city councils and engineers decided to look beyond what they’ve always done. 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 builds roundabouts to reduce crashes near busy mall

Mankato roundabouts | Bye Bye Potholes

The City of Mankato, Blue Earth County, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation joined forces in 2014 to construct roundabouts to reduce crashes near a busy shopping mall. 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 crossings to improve safety and decrease traffic delays. The same reports also recommended flashing yellow-left-turn arrow signals and sidewalk improvements.

Crews built the two intersections at the same time in 2014.  Construction started on June 9 and the roads opened for traffic on August 25. And despite a significant rain delay the third week of June, the project finished ahead of schedule. To speed up construction, the project called for “high early” concrete in all of the paving. 

MnDOT partnered with the City of Mankato and Blue Earth County to schedule the construction detours so that they disrupted businesses and residents as little as possible. They also took increased traffic due to the Minnesota Vikings training camp and the late summer return of thousands of college students to the area into consideration.

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.

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 paving concrete streets, especially if the engineer and public works folks have only worked with asphalt. These two pavements are as different as banana bread and French bread. Both are breads, but require different handling, techniques, and knowledge.

A number of cities paving with concrete tap into the expertise of their county engineers or MnDOT. It’s a smart way to try something new, to learn, and to reduce the risk of errors. Many engineers are highly risk-averse. In this situation, they’re sensitive to the risk of having to pay thousands of dollars for repairs on a concrete paving project that might go wrong.

Five things to ensure a successful concrete street project

Here’s a handy list to help ensure success on concrete street projects.

  1. Rely on a pro
    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 Specifications because they specifically deal with city streets, sidewalks, curb and gutter, and driveways. It was written to provide consistency from city to city for these “flatwork” projects. Specs from outside the state may not factor in our weather 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 asphalt.
  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 projects succeed.

Are you interested in learning more about the benefits and risks of switching to concrete? We’d be happy to speak with you, and even do a presentation at a city council meeting. We’re not going to hard-sell you as we have members who sell asphalt and others who sell concrete!

Contact Tumer (TooMARE) Akakin, our concrete technical adviser, to learn more:

Road reconstruction in Moorhead designed for future expansion

Moorhead, Minn. concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

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

Project Description

The new concrete road replaced asphalt pavement originally laid in 1964.  Over the years, the road required two asphalt overlays, the first in 1980 and the second in 1989. Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge said the city decided to use concrete as part of a plan that dates back to 2002. Because the city wanted a surface that wouldn’t rut and one that required less maintenance, it turned to concrete. With US Highway 10 to the north and I-94 to the south, the road’s traffic volume exceeds 10,000 cars and trucks per day and carries heavy truck traffic.

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

Project Engineer Josh Olson of Apex Engineering Group, said the road’s design allows for four lanes of traffic. It now carries two lanes of traffic, with a center turn lane.

During construction, Trowbridge said, the city closed the road to all traffic. That allowed for the work to get done during the summer months. The city provided temporary access for residents of an apartment complex 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. Federal funds, administered through the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), paid about $990,000. The city assessed about $195,000 to property owners. 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’

Some residents living along King’s Highway, now dubbed the “Street of 10,000 Potholes,” will get a smoother road this summer. Others will have to wait until next year for the street in front of their house to be repaved.

With a price tag of $1.6 million, the Minneapolis Park Board said it doesn’t have enough money to repair King’s Highway (Dupont Avenue South from West 36th Street to West 46th Street). So the Board decided to split the project in two. Plans call for repaving an access road to Lake Harriet and 6 blocks of the deteriorating road this year; delaying work along the southern section until next year at the earliest.

That decision left some residents fuming and prompted the placement of  40-plus lawn signs along the deteriorating roadway that urged residents to call the Park Board.

Their angst is understandable. The Park Board postponed the project, originally scheduled for 2015, once again because of a lack of funds.

The fact is most Minnesota cities face funding gaps when it comes to roads. A League of Minnesota Cities report titled “Transportation Funding in Minnesota: A Myth-Busting Fact Sheet,” cites aging transportation infrastructure, rising costs for labor and road materials, and inflation as the reason. In large part, road maintenance and construction costs have increased 55 percent over the last 20 years.

But delaying needed maintenance work only increases 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.

Project delays also explain the potholes. It’s been 20 years since the Park Board seal coated this segment of King’s Highway.

Read more about the King’s Highway Project and resident concerns with the Park Board’s decision in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Worthington paper winning headline on plentiful potholes

We ran a Bye Bye pothole headline contest for Minnesota newspapers in April. 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 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 for its roads.

‘Catchy 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.  They often draw other readers into the story, too.

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. “Curiosity had me go after the story in addition to the contest,” he said.

Evers-Hillstrom researched how potholes form and read case studies, statistics and research posted on Bye Bye Potholes, He 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.

Then Evers-Hillstrom drove around town to see which roads were concrete and which were asphalt. 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. He said 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.

Officials project the project’s total cost (engineering and inspection included) 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
• 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 many public works crews 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 begun to pave 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

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 projected project costs for asphalt pavement was $2.4 million. The projection for concrete was $4.2 million. 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. The bids were very close once they were adjusted to include maintenance costs. They came in at about $4.1 million for asphalt and $4.3 million for concrete.

Commissioners opted to pave with asphalt

Concrete’s higher costs upfront covered by longer life and less maintenance

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.

The American Public Works Association says that seeking both asphalt and concrete bids often leads to reduced costs.

That’s what happened in Lyon County. The cost of the project came down by requiring bids for both asphalt and concrete. Lyon County commissioners also were able to make an evidence-based decision, rather than relying on individual preference.

Public officials are shrewd when they get bids for both asphalt and concrete. Adjusting the bids to include maintenance costs for 40 to 50 years also is a great idea. Taxpayers can then be assured they are getting the biggest bang for their buck when building and maintaining streets.
Read more about Lyon County’s decision in the Marshall Independent.


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

Comparing cost of roads like comparing toilet paper

cost of roads | Bye Bye Potholes

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

Take shopping for toilet paper as an example.

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

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

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

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

Consumer common sense applies to judging cost of roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hutchinson using Pavement Condition Index to manage its roads

In a perfect world, streets would always be like new with nary a crack, a rut or a pothole. But as anyone who has lived in Minnesota with its extreme climate knows, it doesn’t take long for a street to begin showing its age.

For that reason, cities wage an annual and costly battle to keep their investment in paving at a suitable level. In Hutchinson, that means spending about $2.8 million per year to keep the average street roughly in the condition it is today.

Public Works Manager John Olson, who is in charge of Hutchinson’s annual pavement management program, gave his 2017 update to the City Council earlier this month.

100-point Pavement Condition Index gives scores to each road

The city grades the condition of local streets each year on a 100-point scale called a Pavement Condition Index. Hutchinson aims to keep the more than 90 miles of roadway (about 13.3 miles are state or federal roads) within city limits at a PCI score of 65 to 75.

This year’s score landed right in the middle at 70, down from 71 in 2014, the last year a physical survey was performed, but up from 66 as recently as 2011. The city plans to do its next survey this year. Streets in the northwest quadrant of the city (77) and southeast (76) had the best overall PCI ratings. Both areas have been the scene of several major street projects in recent years.

The options to repair streets back to good shape costs more the more a street deteriorates. The pavement management system, Olson said in a memo to the council, helps city staff and the council make the best use of Hutchinson’s money by showing them when it is more economical to schedule certain streets for projects. Those projects go into the five-year Capital Improvement Plan that city leaders update each year.

Additionally, the city’s street network grew by about 1.5 percent annually.

Pay more for road reconstruction later

Catching problems early can spare city taxpayers a bigger bill later. For example, a simple life-extending seal coating costs about $1.50 per square yard. Another minimal project — grinding off the top two inches of paving and resurfacing with new material — costs only $1.85 per yard.

But costs can escalate. A partial road reconstruction, including replacing curbs and gutters and some utility work, carries an average price tag of $103.50 per yard. Total reconstruction, or construction of a new street, can cost about $144 per yard.

 Over the past five years, the city has addressed 906,453 square yards of paving, or not quite 12 percent of its network. The city seal coated or applied a sealant to about 78 percent of that work. That maintenance is expected to cost about $125,000 annually in the next five years.

The other 22 percent of street projects involved road reconstruction, partial reconstruction, full-depth reclamation or overlay of new pavement over the old. New construction was less than 1 percent. The city projects these cost at around $2.7 million per year in each of the next five years. Olson’s report noted that assessments to owners of property adjoining those streets should cover about 30 percent of the cost.

Olson said he expected the city’s street PCI will remain in its targeted range of 65 to 75 when factoring in maintenance projects expected in the next five years.

Olson, and his boss, Public Works Director Kent Exner, said escalating labor costs, rather than materials, are driving up the price of street work now. Much of the material has remained relatively flat in recent years because of oil costs.

Read more: Hutchinson Leader

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 water 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 on the roads, the water is too briny for the grass.

So Woodbury is buying more sophisticated anti-icing gear. It hopes to prevent 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.”

Anti-icing gear could help reduce brine in drinking water

A 2015 study showed that chloride concentrations in Frost Belt streams doubled from 1990 to 2011. And that poses 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 enhanced its downtown shopping district when it completed the Main Street reconstruction project last fall. To complement the new concrete road, the city used exposed aggregate and colored concrete pavers and retained its angled parking. 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. The city also replaced the aging sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water lines below. 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. The city recycled the concrete from the original street pavement for use in the roadway’s sub base.

Brown also said the city completed the Main Street reconstruction project 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, 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 people is home to five concrete roundabouts, with two more planned for 2017.

Project description

In the summer of 2016, the city built its fifth roundabout at the intersection of 70th Street (County Highway 22) and Jamaica Avenue. It was a joint project of the city and Washington County. Like another roundabout built 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. She cited concrete’s durability and performance.

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

Unique to this project was the county’s desire to keep east-west traffic moving, said Project Engineer Dave Sanocki of Stantec. Thus, crews constructed a bypass lane on the north side of the intersection. The project also included upgrades to 70th Street and Jamaica Avenue, from Indian Boulevard to Military Road.

The project’s total cost was $3.25 million. Cottage Grove paid about $1.8 million.The county paid about $1.45 million. Municipal State Aid,  funded in part by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle fees and motor vehicle sales tax, covered about $1.7 million. And finally, the city assessed $48,000 to property owners who benefited from the water and storm sewer extension.

The city noted it designed and built this project for the future. The city can expand traffic flow by changing the striping and markings in the concrete to allow two lanes of traffic.

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

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

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

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




gaylord 4th and Main after
Photo credit: John Cross

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




Photo credit: Doug Hanneman

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




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

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




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

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

The learning curve behind driving roundabouts

driving roundabouts | bye bye potholes

Driving roundabouts isn’t easy the first few times, but there’s a good reason cities and counties are building them.

According to an article by Moore Engineering based in West Fargo, North Dakota, roundabouts eliminate left-hand turns which cause a lot of accidents. They also force drivers to slow down, leaving them more time to react and make a decision, reducing the number of crashes. Pedestrians, too, have a bit more confidence in crossing the street when drivers are slowing down. 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.

The roundabout at the crossing of Highway 75 and Sixtieth Avenue South in Moorhead is a great example. Prior to the roundabout, the former 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 said the intersection one of the most dangerous in the state. It installed a roundabout there in October 2011 and there have been only two possible injuries.

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 that driving roundabouts caused 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.

Roundabouts are increasingly popular for traffic and safety

Check out roundabout case studies in the Bye Bye Potholes blog. The city of Mankato worked with MnDOT and Blue Earth County to reconstruct a very busy stretch of highway with two roundabouts near a busy shopping mall back in 2014. The intent was to slow drivers down and reduce the number of accidents. They also designed them to decrease traffic delays.

Also, in 2016, the City of Cottage Grove and Washington County built the city’s fifth all concrete roundabout. They use roundabouts to slow down cars and keep them moving. They particularly favor using only concrete for the entire roundabout to avoid the heaving that occurs with asphalt.

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 with its streets, curb and gutter, and pavers provide a perfect foundation for the historic downtown.

Plans to rebuild Central Avenue between County Road 81 and County Road 30 were in the making for some time. When the council OK’d the $4.8 project to replace its aging asphalt road with a concrete one, it also agreed to give the city’s streetscape a facelift. The 2008-2009 makeover included both new curb and gutter and new water and storm sewer lines.

Project Manager Sarah Rippke of Bolton & Menk said choosing concrete over asphalt added about 12 percent to the bottom line. Still, they recommended concrete because of its long life expectancy (40 to 50 years) and because it takes less to maintain it.

The new streetscape includes concrete pavers that can be removed and stored during future redevelopment. Hoisington Koegler Group, Inc. designed this part of the project.

The streetscape also included LED street lighting designed to last 16-plus years. The city estimates energy cost savings of $10,000 each year. Read more about that here.

City funds and assessments to nearby property owners paid for the project.

The city made its final payment on the project in November 2011. The street did need some joint maintenance work after the project was finished.

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

Project recognized by architects and engineers

The concrete streetscape project received the 2012 Merit Award by the American Society of Landscape Architects, Minnesota. It also received the 2010 Project of the Year Award from the City Engineers Association of Minnesota (CEAM).


Managing local gravel mines as community assets

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

Elk River, Mankato manage local gravel mines as community assets

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

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

Elk River’s gravel district

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

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

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

Open Communication

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

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

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

Gravel mine turned park

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

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

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

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

Mankato envisions a park for generations

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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 decides to replace concrete with concrete rather than resurface road

Wells Minnesota concrete road | Bye Bye Potholes

Project Description

The City of Wells and Faribault County decided to replace concrete with concrete when it rebuilt County State Aid Highway 62 in 2013.

Wells City Engineer Travis Winter of Bolton & Menk, Inc., said the city chose to rebuild with concrete, in part, because of the work needed to be done to the water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines 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 rebuilt 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 cost less than asphalt in the long run.

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 in 2015.  The upgrade from Abbott Street to Wedge Street 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 because of the subsoil. 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.

Federal funds paid for most of the project costs ($1.6 million). 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. The city assessed property owners along the route $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

Cities no longer need to hesitate to ask for both asphalt and concrete bids for street projects. ARM is offering a free concrete design service to make it easier.

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 the softer asphalt (or bituminous) pavement.

With a solid design in hand, 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.

The design includes a life cycle cost analysis, which sounds more complicated than it is. Check out this infographic of an actual analysis done by a Minnesota county engineer. He compared the initial cost and annual costs over two years.

What would it hurt to take a look at concrete as a viable option for your next street or parking lot project? Here’s a great blog post about how “alternate bidding” can ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars.

What to know about this concrete street design service

  1. Plan for a two-week turnaround for parking lot projects and up to a three-week turnaround for streets.
  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 Tumer Akakin, our concrete technical adviser, 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

Montgomery, LeSueur County investing in a future without potholes

Montgomery concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes

Project Description:

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

Le Sueur County spearheaded the project, replacing the asphalt street from Trunk Highway 21 to Mill Ave NE with a concrete road. The city handled for the cost of the water and sewer lines and portions of Ash, Elm and Oak east of 5th and 6th Streets.

County Engineer Darrell Pettis said the 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 were in pretty rough shape too, according to Montgomery City Administrator Brian Heck.

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

The Le Sueur County and Montgomery project cost about $5.9 million. The county used state aid highway funds to cover its $3.4 million share.  The city paid about $1.3 million and assessed property owners $1.3 million.

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.



Striped crosswalks don’t slow drivers down

Striped crosswalks | Bye Bye Potholes

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 school kids were crossing the road, and it was not safe for them because of the high speed of the highway.”

Striped crosswalks shaded to create optical illusion

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.”

Because of the way the human eye works, the illusion shows up only slightly at a distance–enough to make someone slow down–but appears two-dimensional up close, so drivers don’t suddenly brake.

Read the rest of author Adele Peters article in Co-Exist.

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 known 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 county approached the city some 25 years ago with an offer to reconstruct the road. Back then, 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 city and county then decided to do a full street reconstruction that included replacing the road, 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 paid about $955,000 for utilities and parking lanes.  The county’s covered about $1.67 million for the storm sewer and concrete road.

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 chose to build a concrete road in 2013, in part, because of a jump in asphalt prices.

Within the city of Wabasha itself, Highway 30 was in very rough shape. Originally built with concrete in the 1930s, the county overlayed it with asphalt in 1992.

For this project, the county picked concrete because of the price of asphalt, the amount of traffic, and the expected preservation costs, according to County Engineer Dietrich Flesch. the county also planned for more truck traffic from a nearby silica sand facility.

In June 2013, the county began work on a  5.25 miles stretch of Highway 30. Outside the city limits, the county rebuilt narrow shoulders and ditches along 1.8 miles. Within the city limits, crews dug up, crushed and reused the existing asphalt surface and concrete below as a base for the new road.

Key facts about the project

  • June 3 to October 26, 2013
  • Of the 5.25 miles of new concrete, 94,500 square yards is seven inches thick, and 10,500 square yards is nine inches thick.
  • The county left most of the existing curb and gutter in place.
  • The county called for A + B bidding.  The contractor bid the number of days they had to complete the project.
  • Engineers redesigned four intersections to include left-turn lanes.
  • The project included municipal utility work, and excavation of unsuitable soils and backfill with nearby river sand.
  • The county kept one lane of traffic open to traffic throughout the project.

Owner: Wabasha County
Project design: Wabasha County staff
Prime 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

A tool measuring the remaining service life of roads (RSL) has become a handy albeit limited tool for cities. Here’s a bit of background to explain some history and background for RSL.

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 gradually breaks down from the wear and tear of thousands of cars and trucks passing over it. It’s affected, too, by heat and cold expanding and contracting it,and  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 like a Hummer H2 or 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” (RSI) of a road. This measures how drivers feel about the quality of the road as they drive on it. Initially drivers will be “pleased,” but over time their reaction descends to “satisfied,” “concerned,” “unhappy” and “angry.” The RSL is deemed exhausted once the RSI hits “concerned.”

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 (CPAM).

 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, 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. 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.

Remaining service life offers a sustainable approach to managing streets

Engineers looked for a solution in the mid-2000s that would keep drivers happy, at least for a little while. They’d fill potholes and lay a thin layer of asphalt on roads needing repairs. But those repairs didn’t last more than one to three years. They put off work on a long-term solution for a few more years.

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, CPAM’s Zeller says, is to concentrate on doing a thorough job with a limited number of roads. Then they can get to the others when funds allow, he added.

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. (Read 7 benefits to concrete streets.)

To satisfy drivers, the planners would 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 to end repair-decline cycle

Street material often isn’t discussed by those who approve street budgets, even though streets cost a lot. Both officials and engineers tend to stick with the status quo. They make assumptions about prices based on outdated information and rarely talk about a concrete alternative. Engineers, in particular, may discuss the remaining service life of a city’s roads, but all the roads likely are asphalt. They miss out on discussing the option of concrete roads with a long, long service life.

We can get out of the endless circle of repair-decline-repair-decline if we change what we talk about. By shifting to a more sustainable approach, we can restore Minnesota roads 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. Which streets can we thoroughly repair in the next three years and what will that cost?
  3. Where can we can hold off on street repairs so we can redirect the money from short-term fixes to full-repair streets?


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.

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 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 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

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 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.

Shift asphalt vs concrete streets debate to fair bidding

asphalt vs concrete streets

A recent editorial in the Hutchinson Leader newspaper focused on asphalt vs concrete streets. Many people don’t realize that there are two types of pavements that cities can choose from.

Choosing which type to use is a little like choosing between a PC or Apple computer. Both are computers, and often, we choose to use the same one over and over. It’s hard to switch. Mostly, we get used to one thing and stick with it because we know how it works.

When it comes to your city streets, your engineer or city council shows a strong preference for asphalt, or “blacktop, the word most people use when talking about their driveways. Residents don’t care what the pavement is made of. They just care that the road gets them where they want to go smoothly.

The editorial goes on to point out that concrete and asphalt pavement interests collide when talking about long-term vs short-term costs. Concrete companies say their pavement costs a bit more upfront but lasts years longer than asphalt so the final amount of taxpayer dollars that are spent is nearly the same.

End the asphalt vs concrete streets debate with fair bidding

While concrete was preferred by many cities for decades, asphalt became cheaper and now, like PC owners vs Mac owners, they have a strong preference for asphalt.

“It’s cheap and it’s fast and they know how to work with it,” said Renee McGivern, a consultant with the Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota.

The strong bias toward asphalt, though, locks cities into a short-term solution for street projects. It results in regular maintenance, like seal coating and pothole repairs. Finally, after about 15-20 years, the street needs new asphalt. They build a new street on top of the existing street, in essence.

Concrete, on the other hand, requires a minor repair at around 20 years, and little else for another 15-20 years.

The article goes on to focus in on the City of Hutchinson and its bidding process. Does it make sense, asks the writer, for Hutchinson to require both asphalt and concrete bids?

Read what the city engineer has to say in the Hutchinson Leader

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.

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 details

A colorful, classy downtown now greets Detroit Lakes tourists.  The city finished a major street project on Highway 22 in 2015.  Apex Engineering Group, of Detroit Lakes, worked closely with the city, county, and local businesses on this Detroit Lakes street project.

The city decided to use concrete, in part, because it will last longer than asphalt. Concrete also worked better for the site’s tight grades. Colored and textured concrete also provided touches the city and county wanted.

Of note: The contract included a Locked Incentive Date (LID) payment of $50,000. The city agreed to pay the bonus if most of the project work was done by June 26th. With the LID clause, extra costs associated with trying to achieve the incentive payment can’t be billed to the city, nor could weather be used as an excuse for not getting the work done.

Download this case study.

Project dates 

April to August 2015

Project details

  • Total cost of the project: $4.437 M; 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: 3,600 CY


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.

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

Residents and business owners of Gaylord are happy and relieved that a 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 2,300 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.

Downtown now a showcase with fresh concrete, sidewalks and more

Work in 2014 included a section of Highways 19 and 22, which ran from Sibley Avenue to Gaylord’s north city limits. Crews updated utilities, added concrete curb and gutter, improved access to sidewalks, added a crosswalk near the school, and poured the concrete for a smoother road. In 2015, the project focused on the business district including Highway 5 and 22 to the south. During that phase, crews also replaced utilities, sidewalks and the streets. The city also added new lighting, benches, bike racks and planters. (see video below).

City Administrator Kevin McCann put the age of the water, sewer, and utilities at about  80 and the road at between 50-60 years.”We knew we needed to fix it.”

In 2008, the city went to MnDOT District 7 with a report that outlined infrastructure problems. They also included 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 other highway projects took priority for years. With the city’s report in hand, the agency scheduled this 1.5-mile project for 2014 and 2015.

McCann said a lot of stakeholders were involved, including residents and business owners. To help businesses with cash flow during the project, the city offered no-interest, four-year loans. Nearby St. Peter had done something similar for its downtown businesses during their street 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.”

Residents kept up to date

During the project, the city updated a web page with backgrounders, maps and other news. City Engineer Justin Black, P.E. of Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) produced the content. He worked on the scoping report as well.

While the north end of the project near a school involved new asphalt paving, the city paved the downtown streets 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 about the project. 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 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.

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: when do potholes form?

Birth of a pothole illustration | Bye Bye Potholes
Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

When do 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.

Simple physics the answer to “When do potholes form?

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, including the vast majority of Minnesota’s roads. 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.

But from 2003 up until 2016, asphalt prices increased by more than 200% and concrete only 37% — yet most city, county and even state bidding practices failed to include concrete in their bidding process.

We’re hoping cities who are serious about reducing potholes will get serious about getting concrete bids because potholes in concrete are almost non-existent.

Want to reduce 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.

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

Download Hutchinson street project case study.


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.

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 — — 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

Concrete Pavement Specifications book | Bye Bye Potholes

It’s hard to believe that city engineers struggled for many years to design local concrete streets. After all, it’s a significant part of their jobs. Yet all they had for concrete pavement specifications was the one for concrete highways by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Highways require thicker concrete and more on-site inspections that your local street need.

If 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.

New specifications for local streets provides uniformity

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 specification takes all the guesswork out. It ensures more efficient work and better results for city projects like concrete streets, curbs and sidewalks.It addresses materials, mixes, execution, curing, testing and more.

The newer concrete pavement specifications recognize the differences between major highways and local streets. It’s not hard to imagine why they should be different. Highways usually have significantly more traffic, heavier traffic, and that wears out pavement, both asphalt and concrete. Building highways need thicker pavement and they need to be inspected more often during the construction process.

Maria Masten, a MnDOT pavement engineer, participated in the creation of the concrete specifications  to “provide uniformity from project to project.” She added they guide local agencies who let the projects, and the contractors and suppliers who 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.

A Q & A about Woodbury’s concrete intersection

Washington County and the City of Woodbury built a concrete intersection in 2012 at Valley Creek Road and Radio Drive, the busiest intersection in the county. Woodbury is located about 10 miles east of downtown St. Paul.

Hundreds of truck and cars travel on Valley Creek Road each day and by 2012, the street needed a full repair. The county had milled and overlaid many sections of Valley Creek Road (CSAH 16) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Radio Drive (CSAH 13), running north and south across Valley Creek road, had recently been repaved with asphalt. However, the asphalt pavement repair inside the intersection was delayed until this 2012 project.

The county chose to place a concrete intersection and reconnect it to the asphalt paving on Radio Drive. It then paved a 1.42-mile stretch of Valley Creek Road on either side of the intersection.

“We did a life cycle cost analysis and compared it to traditional asphalt repair methods such as remove and replace, and full-depth reclamation,” said Jacob Gave, the former Washington County project engineer. “A concrete intersection requires less maintenance during its service life and therefore less impact to traffic so that’s what we chose.”

The city alerted residents to the project, which took from August to October to complete. The county believed reduced numbers of repairs in the future would offset the significant traffic impacts during the paving process. Indeed, some five years later, the intersection and Valley Creek Road have required no maintenance.

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 ended it by late October. The cost was $3.268 million and it will last a good 30 years.

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

Download the Case Study.

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




Alexandria concrete street reconstruction wins award

Alexandria Minn concrete street project | Bye Bye Potholes

The League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) awarded Alexandria’s downtown concrete street project its 2015 City of Excellence Award for cities with 5,000-19,999 residents.

Project Details

In the summer of 2014, the city rebuilt Broadway Street through the heart of its downtown. It happened during their busy tourist season. Business owners were very concerned about access to their stores and offices.

The LMC award noted the lengths to which the city went to involve the public in this project. The city held many meetings with the public, used social media and a website, advertising, and other tools to keep everyone up to date.

Specifically, the city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) reconstructed Broadway (Highway 29) in downtown Alexandria from 3rd Avenue to 8th Avenue. The end result: A smoother road that was safer to drive and cross. Also, the sidewalks and curbs are easier to navigate for the disabled.

Also, the city wanted a new streetscape and to upgrade underground utilities. A streetscape often involves adding potted plants, new lights, and banners. It spruces up the street to match the new white pavement.

MnDOT chose concrete for this section of Broadway after doing a life cycle cost analysis.  In the end, the street section of the project used 7″ of concrete, 6″ of Class 5 aggregate base, and 23″ inches of select granular borrow. In all, the project used 5,186.5 cubic yards of concrete for light poles, the street, sidewalks, and curbs.

Download the Case study.

Project dates

05/14 – 10/14


Owner: MnDOT
Project designer: Widseth Smith Nolting (WSN)
City engineer: Tim Schoonhoven, WSN
Pavement: CS McCrossan
Curb, gutter, and sidewalks: Curb Masters
Prime contractor: Sellin Brothers
Ready mix producer: Alexandria Concrete
Photo credit: Alexandria Echo Press.

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 do potholes form in asphalt

How do potholes form | Bye Bye Potholes

Potholes form in asphalt, not concrete

A common question for drivers everywhere in the U.S. is “How do potholes form?” If you live in a cold climate, we’ll hear about the freeze/thaw cycle that breaks down asphalt pavement. Check out the video below. It was created by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in a state with a cold climate indeed. What this video doesn’t address is how potholes form in hot climate states, like Texas, Louisiana and the like. Indeed, there are potholes there as well!

Asphalt is a flexible pavement and more likely to break down and form potholes. Concrete, on the other hands, is a rigid pavement and doesn’t break down into potholes. It cracks, but you rarely see a hole in concrete pavement. So how do potholes form? You can choose to watch the video or read the video transcript below.


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.

Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation

You might want to check out Minnesota cities that are choosing to end potholes on their streets. Read a blog post about these cities.

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.

More Posts