By the fall of 2004, Brainerd International Raceway's three-mile road course could have a new surface made of taconite tailings-based asphalt that would be paid for with state and federal grant money.
In return, BIR would allow the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other agencies to monitor and test the surface in an effort to prove the material's durability and its value as an alternative construction material on public roads nationwide.
In the end, BIR would have a durable and long-lasting race track, the only one of its kind in the world, on which to continue offering world-class motorsports, while the state would have a road surface that could be tested under extreme driving and weather conditions, while showcasing the benefits of using taconite tailings-based asphalt.
BIR also would allow the Minnesota State Patrol to use the facility for training purposes.
BIR general manager Scott Quick met May 7 with public and private individuals who are working to advance the use of taconite tailings as a substrate in asphalt. BIR reconstructed its quarter-mile drag strip last year, using taconite asphalt to give dragsters more traction and increase speeds. The plan is to reconstruct the rest of the track with the material.
Also attending the meeting was Dave Hendrickson, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Applied Research and Technology; Rick Anderson of Iron Range Resources; Bruce Gerlach of Cleveland Cliff Mining Corp.; Capt.. Mark Johassen of the Minnesota State Patrol; Ed Shaughnessy of C.R. Meyer and Sons; Brainerd mayor Jim Wallin; and Elwyn Tinklenberg and Dan Krome of The Tinklenberg Group, a consulting firm that's working with states to encourage using this material on public roads.
The group indicated it may be possible to acquire matching funds and grants worth the $800,000 estimated for track construction. That would enable construction to begin in September and conclude before winter. Gerlach said he would support a donation of taconite tailings by Cleveland Cliff Mining.
"I was very encouraged after the meeting," Quick said. "Everyone's stepping up because they understand the incredible value a project like this has to the Iron Range mines as well as to the entire state of Minnesota.
"Showing Minnesota and other states that investing in roads with this material is a wise choice will generate significant jobs and revenue for the Iron Range. And race tracks throughout the country will be getting in line to use it as well."
Using this special asphalt on public roads is already gaining popularity nationwide because the product is so durable it requires less patching and needs to be replaced less often than conventional asphalt. Plus, many markets, like the Twin Cities, are experiencing a shortage of available rock aggregate to make traditional asphalt.
Taconite tailings, the course, jagged rock-like material left behind from the taconite mining process, is found in abundance on the Iron Range in northeast Minnesota. In fact, 4 billion tons of the material are currently available. The cost is about $1 a ton but because the tailings are so dense, transporting them is expensive and difficult. Trucks transported BIR's tailings from EVTAC Mining in Eveleth but major road construction projects will require the material to be transported by rail or water.
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