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MnDot's District Six feeling neglected


Fri, Aug 24th, 2007
Posted in Government

Around fifty area citizens attended a meeting in Chatfield on August 21 to listen to a presentation by MnDot planners and to make comments or ask questions. Chris Moates, MnDot Planning Director, detailed a prepared presentation for area state roads including US 52 from Fountain north to the I-90 intersection and MN 30 and MN 74.

Carol Huntington made it clear from the onset as to the frustration of area users of US 52 as to its poor surface condition, pot holes, narrowness, and unsafe accesses. She asked what maintenance was to be done. Moates suggested that the patching was it. Huntington retorted, "How did you get here, did you fly in?" She summed up the beliefs of the crowd that the road is totally unacceptable now.

Moates explained that there are no major improvements in the long range plan and that the patch work is all the district can afford at this time. The section from Fountain to Chatfield is scheduled to be resurfaced with an overlay of bituminous in 2009 and the section from Chatfield to I-90 is scheduled for the same in 2011. He said that 75% of the district's budget is being used for preservation only. He defended MnDot in say that they are doing the best they can with the money they have to improve the system. Moates admitted that the pavements are crumbling and said that this district is in the worse condition of the eight districts in the state. He added, "We are way behind the curve and trying to catch up."

Al Spalla suggested that MnDot plans and surveys and does nothing. This section of US 52 has had plans drawn up for reconstruction almost twenty years ago. Moates said that things change and new designs are made, requiring new plans. Spalla, who lives on "Nelson Hill" probably the most dangerous part of the highway, warned that one day a bus load of kids could get killed on the access in or out of Jasmine Drive which is on a blind downhill curve.

Art Friedrich of Marion complained about the difficulties residents have gaining access to the highway in the Marion area. He asked that the speed limit be lowered through Marion as it is in Fountain.

What is to be done?

Another man called the highway "inadequate and dangerous" and asked what can we do to step up the process to replace it and what does the public have to do to demand better service from the government. Moates suggested that more money is needed for transportation and that people need to contact their local representatives. He again referred to the "miniscule" budget for district six.

Related to this question, this reporter heard on a TV newscast a young man's demand from Minnesota City which was heavily damaged by the recent flooding. He said, "People pay taxes their whole life and sometimes it (the government) needs to come through for them too."

If this area of rural Minnesota wants a bigger slice of the pie, citizens are going to have to make demands of their government officials. County engineers John Grindeland from Fillmore County and Mike Sheehan from Olmsted County both believe that the "pie" needs to be bigger. Moates listed several large future projects including bridges at Winona and Red Wing over the Mississippi River which will eat up a lot of the pie. Added to them are costs associated with the 35W bridge and the recent flooding in the southeast region.

Moates said that the amendment that was passed last fall to use sales tax funds from vehicle purchases for transportation will go 60% to transportation and 40% to transit. Sheehan said that state gas tax fund is for roads with 62% for the state highway system, 29% is divided up among the 87 counties, and 9% goes to cities with populations over 5,000.

Sheehan explained that without an increase in the gas tax, more pressure will be put on property owners for funds. The gas tax has not been raised since 1988. He added that with the huge increases in costs, that the system can not operate on the funding of twenty years ago.

Mayor Curt Sorenson of Chatfield asked the what-if question. If the money were there, when could there be reconstruction? Grindeland and Moates agreed that it would still be years away, probably at least six. Fillmore County Commissioner Duane Bakke questioned whether it would be possible to work a short section reconstruction plan (for Nelson Hill) into the overlay work for 2009. Moates replied that it may qualify for safety funds, but probably couldn't be done by 2009. Grindeland asked if the money were available would US 52 be a #1 priority? Moates noted that under the current plan the answer would be no, but can't say how it would be prioritized in the plan being done. He added that we'd be foolish to ignore US 52 and its condition and its import to the region.

Moates said that our district is "bad." A citizen asked how it got bad. Moates replied that it was a combination of priorities and money. Grindeland stressed that a gas tax by law has to go directly to roads. He implied that if the tax had been increased incrementally over the past twenty years, the condition of roads could have been better maintained.

Another open house is to be held probably in November where the planners will present their preliminary findings and get citizen feedback. Moates can be reached at 507-280-3188 or at chris.moates@dot.state.mn.us

The frustration and the feelings of neglect for our state roads in our area came through.

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