Roads, both paved and gravel, were on the minds of Crow Wing County commissioners Tuesday.
The board learned the Mill Avenue project is well ahead of schedule. County Highway Engineer Lyndon Robjent said Mill Avenue may reopen in three weeks. The project could have extended into the fall.
But much of the road discussion was about priorities and goals for the county's highway improvement plan. At the top of the list was a goal to pave the county's gravel roads.
There are 613 miles on the county road system with about 10 percent or 61 miles of gravel. Estimates are that it would cost about $6 million to pave all the county's gravel roads.
About 380 miles are considered County State Aid Highways - the roads with one or two-digit numbers. Those roads are supported by money from the gas tax and vehicle license and registration fees. The county has 180 miles of county roads, identified by three numbers, which are supported solely by area property taxes. There are 54 miles of town roads in Unorganized Territory.
The highway improvement plan lists roads, potential costs and funding sources for projects from 2008 to 2012 and beyond, which is not to say all roads on the list make the timeline. The board noted one road was on the five-year plan for about 12 years.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said with limited dollars paving county roads should not be a priority in the plan. Thiede said if it was a board goal he would be willing to consider the possibility of levying specifically for that purpose. But Thiede said he hasn't seen the data supporting a demand for paving or that maintenance cost is reduced for paved surfaces. Robjent said while the upfront cost for paving is higher, the maintenance cost for those roads is less than for gravel surfaces.
Commissioner Dewey Tautges said he saw nothing wrong in keeping the priority list as presented as the suggestion was not to spend money the county doesn't have.
Thiede said there are roads with higher traffic counts than those on gravel roads. Robjent said while it is generally true gravel roads have less traffic, there are examples of gravel roads with higher traffic counts that exceed paved surfaces. And Robjent said paving isolated gravel roads - like County Road 121 by St. Mathias - could reduce costs in hauling equipment, such as a road grader, to the site. Robjent also said the county may benefit from paving missing links where otherwise paved surfaces have gravel segments, such as County Road 105.
Tautges jokingly pointed out most of the unpaved roads are not in Thiede's district.
The county board approved the plan as presented, retaining the priority list.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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