Preserving Arlington Memorial Bridge

Mn/DOT Rates Roadway Conditions

Sun July 01, 2007 - Midwest Edition
CEG



ST. PAUL (AP) The number of roads rated in “good” condition fell below the state’s targeted goal for the fourth straight year, while the percentage of lower-volume roads in “poor” condition is at its highest level on record, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s annual survey of highway smoothness.

The percentage of low-traffic roads in “poor” condition rose to 5.2 percent. By 2010, more than 3 percent of freeways, interstates and other high-volume roads are projected to be in the poor category, up from 2.3 percent last year.

“The public tells us ride is very important to them,” said Bob Winter, MnDOT director of operations. To meet its goals and stay in budget, the state will have to spend more on preserving existing pavement and less on building new roads, he said. “We gave ourselves until 2014 to get our pavement up.”

But around Rochester, roads are so bad that officials gave themselves until 2022 to meet standards.

Wanamingo residents point to Highway 57, the cracked, pitted and patched highway that runs parallel to Highway 52 north of Rochester.

“It shakes you, and when you hit the big holes you are afraid you are going to pop your tires,” said Todd Greseth, who lives along the highway. “I drive a school bus, too. It shakes the buses up terrible.”

Of the state’s 7,405 mi. of high-traffic roadways, approximately 5,102 offer a “good” ride, short of the goal of 70 percent. Another 170 mi. of busy roadways had a “poor” ride, slightly over the state’s target of no more than 2 percent.

To earn a “good” rating, roads can’t have much more than fine cracks. Roads rated “poor” have large potholes, deep cracks over half the surface and, on concrete roads, unevenness and crumbling at the joints.

MnDOT has repeatedly said it doesn’t have the money to keep roads in good shape. Legislators have twice voted to increase the state’s gas tax, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it both times.

The constitutional change that will dedicate all vehicle sales-tax receipts to roads and transit will provide an extra $31 million for highways in the fiscal year starting July 1. Meanwhile, gas tax receipts slipped from $650.6 million in 2005 to $646.8 million in 2006. MnDOT also has shifted priorities from pavement preservation in order to work on bigger, bottleneck-removal projects.

As a result, five of the nine MnDOT districts failed one or more of four ride-quality targets.

The southeastern Minnesota district, the home of Highway 57, was the only one that flunked all four categories.

There, roads suffer from poor soils and poor-quality limestone aggregate, and hilly terrain. The district’s many bridges and interstate miles take priority over lesser-traveled roads, said district materials engineer Tom Meath. Another factor is that the district spent $232 million to rebuild 10 mi. of Highway 52 in Rochester.

In the metro area, the rising cost of construction materials and heavy traffic make it hard to keep roads smooth, said MnDOT metro materials engineer Dave Van Deusen. The metro district missed three of the four good-ride goals.

But even in the Detroit Lakes and Willmar, where roads met goals, officials said problems are beneath the surface because there’s no money for permanent fixes.

“We have a lot of miles of old roads that don’t look very good underneath,” said MnDOT materials engineer Art Bolland. “The fixes we are doing are five- to eight-year fixes, as opposed to 20-year fixes. To do it right, you need to do some of each.”