Crow Wing County Board: Commissioners adopt 5-year highway improvement plan
There was a projected total of $75.9 million worth of investments in the plan for the Crow Wing County, and the First Assessment and Second Assessment districts roadway systems, according to County Engineer Tim Bray.
Exactly where to spend money repairing Crow Wing County roadways, when and for how much was part of a five-year highway improvement plan adopted by the board of commissioners.
County Engineer Tim Bray gave a presentation about the 2020-2024 plan at the board’s meeting Tuesday, April 14, after the annual Transportation Advisory Committee met March 3.
“The Transportation Advisory Committee is all five of the county commissioners, and each one of the county commissioners has the opportunity to appoint one citizen adviser, so each one of us has a citizen adviser on the committee,” Board Chairman Paul Koering explained.
There was a projected total of $75.9 million worth of investments in the plan for the county, and the First Assessment and Second Assessment districts roadway systems, according to Bray.
“And that’s actually about a $10 million or more increase over what you may have seen in the same document last year. And that’s representative of our plans to deliver County Road 115 in ‘23 and ‘24,” Bray told the board.
Road improvement funding
About $6.4 million would come from a federal transportation bill and about $25.7 million would come from county state aid to help fund 149 miles of road improvements planned in the county.
“This actually increased since March, where we were awarded over a million dollars of federal highway safety improvement money. We’re going to be able to improve four intersections with left turn lanes and then also some other safety improvements around the county,” Bray said.
Bray said of the $25.7 million in county state aid. “This is what the county gets through the gas tax as we pay at the pump, and it kind of filters down from a huge fund that the state maintains and distributes.”
About $3.7 million would come from the county road and bridge levy, and $2.3 million from the First Assessment District road and bridge levy, according to the five-year plan.
There were also two bridge replacements, three roundabouts and one bridge deck improvement proposed as part of the county’s highway improvement plan adopted Tuesday.
Road improvement projects
Of the total miles of proposed improvement projects, there were 92 miles of county highway, 49 miles of county roads and 8 miles of First Assessment District roads included in the total figure.
“The First and the Second Assessment district is what people call ‘Unorganized Territory.’ It’s not an organized township, so they don’t have a town board, so the county board of commissioners acts as the town board for that area,” Koering said.
Bray added, “Those two particular unorganized townships have their own township-level road and bridge levy, which is separate from the county road and bridge levy ... $2.3 million of township-level taxes going in to pay for the road system over the next five years.”
The proposal to improve the south half of County Road 115 — also known as Ojibwa and Nashway roads — was adopted April 23, 2019, by the board in the plan. That project has a long and contentious history with area residents over concerns about aesthetics.
“We partner with (the Minnesota Department of Transportation) to gather road quality index numbers. This is the fancy van that goes around with lasers … that actually measures the road, so we can compare one road in one part of the county to another,” Bray said of prioritizing road projects. “It makes it equitable.”
Bray called this year’s plan for highway improvements the largest construction program the county highway department has ever undertaken.
“We have four reconstruction projects this year, which include the intersection at Sportland Corners, which is (county highway) 13 and 77, the east portion from Lake Edward Township Hall basically to County Road 137 — that’s a reconstruct,” Bray said.
An executive order by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz identified “workers engaged in roadway construction, maintenance and utility projects” able to continue while adhering to the recommended procedures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus by social distancing.
“We’re happy to be moving forward with construction. It’s already started. Our contractors have already moved, mobilized equipment there. I think the first one you’ll see will be a detour starting near Lake Edward Township Hall coming up on the 20th. so later this week,” Bray said.
“We have a reconstruct of highways 36 and 37 south of Crosslake proper. And then also a small reconstruction project here in Jenkins on County Road 145, so we have a very, very busy summer, and we’re happy to be moving forward with construction,” Bray said.
Based on the executive order by the governor, the county is moving forward with its 2020 road construction program. Of the more than $14 million in awarded construction contracts for 2020, about 85% have been awarded to low bidders from within the county, according to officials.
“I think it’s important that people know that all the money that’s being used to fix these roads is all levy dollars. By state statute, the sales tax dollars cannot be spent on these roads,” Koering said.
The highway department is responsible for the maintenance and administration of more than 600 miles of county roads, secondary roads and 85 bridges. This includes activities such as engineering design, construction management, signing and routine maintenance of all kinds.
"Tim, has any adjustments been made, given what we’re currently going through, with respect to the sales tax? We think there’s going to be a dip. I’m assuming there’s going to be a reassessment or reanalysis of looking at what we’re proposing, particularly for 2021 and further out,” Commissioner Steve Barrows asked Bray.
Bray replied, “The only thing for certain is that it will decline. We don’t know how far, it’s too early yet. We haven’t even really gotten a sales tax disbursement from the Department of Revenue yet for March when this really got going.”
There are about 380 miles of county state-aid highways supported by funding consisting primarily of gas tax, and vehicle license or registration fees. About 180 miles of county roads are supported by local property taxes, referred to as the county road and bridge levy.
“We may have to make some adjustments next year,” Bray said of projects. “We’ve been planning for ups and downs in the economy because of the local option sales tax in the Brainerd lakes area. And the tourism industry is subject to many things, including the weather.”
Funds dispersed because of county road improvement projects will go to local companies, their employees and their suppliers. Many of these contractors also hire local subcontractors, furthering the economic benefit to the immediate area, according to county officials.
“We need to see the trending data to see if there truly is a reduction or a significant reduction (in sales tax revenue) where it has to make us revisit some of the projects that we had talked about in the five-year plan,” Bray said.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen made the motion to adopt the five-year plan presented and prepared by Bray, which was seconded by Barrows, and the plan was approved unanimously.
The 2020-2024 county highway improvement plan adopted at Tuesday’s meeting will be available soon for public viewing at the county’s website at www.crowwing.us .
Left turn lane construction
The Crow Wing County Transportation Advisory Committee met March 3 and since then the county received an additional $1.03 million in federal highway safety grants.
The funds will be used to install centerline rumble strips on select roads throughout the county in 2021 and to construct dedicated left turn lanes at four pre-selected intersections in 2022.
The county will be required to provide matching funds of $113,925, which represents about 11% of the overall cost for the projects:
County Highway 3 / County Road 127, north of Merrifield.
County Highway 3 / County Road 118 in Center Township.
County Highway 4 / County Highway 18 in Lake Edward Township.
County Highway 16 / County Highway 39 in Ideal Township.
FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .