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Crow Wing County completes highway improvements by year's end

Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray looks over the 2017-21 highway improvement plan, which was adopted April 11. The plan is intended to provide transparency regarding the establishment of roadway improvement priorities and how funding is used. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Crow Wing County's highway improvement plan for 2017 includes reconstruction and rehabilitation of a bridge, roads and highways. Click to view the entire image. Courtesy of Crow Wing County Highway Department2 / 2

It's been said before there are only two seasons in Minnesota—winter and construction season—but now that the former officially began Thursday, county officials couldn't help but look back.

"We had a bunch of rain this year that created some challenges, but through our good partnerships with our contractors and our dedicated staff, we were able to deliver," Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray told the commissioners at a recent board meeting.

Bray annually updates plans for future road improvements to county roads. The 2017-21 plan was adopted by the county board April 11 and can be found online at www.crowwing.us.

Bray calls the five-year highway improvement plan his bible, which includes county highways and those in the First and Second Assessment districts—and he swears by the plan.

"I'm proud to say that we have delivered every project that we said we were going to, in the year we're going to, since I've been here unless there were extenuating circumstances where a partner couldn't, for example, have the financial ability to meet our deadline," Bray said.

The plan's primary purpose is to provide a document that is user-friendly and can be easily shared with residents and visitors of the county, which has a total area of 1,157 square miles.

"The 2017 construction season ... we delivered on all the promises in the bible. ... You call it the 'bible,' but I call it 'our list of promises,'" Bray told the board about the five-year highway improvement plan, which represents $53.8 million in total investment.

"As I started to go out into the communities like the townships, I heard a lot about 'broken promises'—and I'm not throwing anybody that came before me under the bus—but there's probably people who heard something and heard it as a 'promise.'"

According to county officials, the plan is intended to "provide a transparent method to relay how roadway improvement priorities are established and how limited roadway funding is utilized."

About 6 percent of the property tax portion of county revenue will be allocated to highway services according to the 2018 budget, levy and capital improvement plan approved Dec. 12.

"This is the definitive thing," Bray said of the 2017-21 highway improvement plan. "If it's in here, it's going to be built, and if it isn't, there's a good reason. For example, we did have one where we could not deliver because Brainerd had cost participation and they couldn't fund it."

The highway department is responsible for the maintenance and administration of more than 600 miles of county roads, secondary roads and 84 bridges. Another of the department's responsibilities is the construction and maintenance of about 60 miles of township-level roadways.

Those are found in the First and Second Assessment districts, where the county acts as the road authority in the absence of an organized township board, according to the plan.

"We really strived and we're proud that we delivered everything that we said we would in the year we said we're going to do it," Bray said.

"What I've noticed is people won't shingle their roof, they won't tar their driveways, they won't make those major decisions ... until they know what the roads are going to do ... so it can delay decisions on the personal level."

Among the projects executed for 2017 were the reconstruction of County Highway 33 from County Highway 30 to Highway 210, and resurfacing of County Highway 11 from County Highway 4 to County Highway 3, and County Highway 48 from Highway 210 to Minnesota Drive.

"We have more poor pavements than we have money, so you have to prioritize. ... All of these—for the most part—are way past the point where they should have been fixed. They should have been fixed maybe 10 years ago," Bray said. "We're just catching up."

The county's five-year plan includes 175 miles of road improvements, of which 119 miles are county highways, 44 miles are county roads and 12 miles are First Assessment District roads. The 50-page plan also calls for a bridge replacement and two deck improvements.

"We try to start construction season as soon as we possibly can, when the frost is out of the ground—early May probably—and we were probably done with the construction season around mid-November. ... That was the last time our contractors were out on the road," Bray said.

"We did have a little challenge with one of our last roads, County Road 30, but we were able to work with Commissioner (Doug) Houge and the residents there to rectify that, and we are looking forward to having that road paved early next year."

The county has a contract with the Minnesota Department of Transportation for the state department to measure the roughness of various county roads and highways to help determine which ones should receive attention or predict how those roadways might deteriorate later.

"You can start to see in a scientific or very kind of rational way how these might be prioritized," Bray said about the design and construction of 2017 projects that he felt went "really well."

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