by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona County will consider a less expensive fix for Goodview Road, one that might leave portions of the road near Hidden Valley Mobile Home Park unimproved. That was the final result of a meeting between the Winona County Board and representatives from the Goodview City Council on Tuesday where officials from both governments accused each other of backtracking on previous commitments.
Last fall, Winona County Commissioners Marie Kovecsi (western Winona and Goodview), Steve Jacob (rural western Winona County), and Marcia Ward (rural southern and central Winona County) voted 3-2 to adopt a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax across the county. The $1.7 million per year it generates is specifically reserved for transportation projects, and when the County Board passed the tax, a $2 million project to widen Goodview Road (County Road 129) was high on the list of projects to be funded with the new tax. A lack of funding to fix rural roads motivated Ward and Jacob to break with their typical opposition to tax hikes. For Kovecsi, the sales tax offered a chance to fund what many of her constituents believe is an important safety project. Dozens of WE Valley residents filed a petition in years past asking the county to widen the narrow road their children walk along to reach parks and lakes. Some Winona city government leaders were not happy about the tax because they believed urban businesses would be paying new sales taxes to benefit rural roads many of their customers do not use. Commissioners Jim Pomeroy (eastern Winona) and Greg Olson (west-central Winona) voted against it.
Late this fall, the Winona County Road and Bridge Committee, which includes Jacob, Ward, and county staff members, advanced a proposal for the city of Goodview to take over ownership of Goodview Road once the road-widening project was completed in 2018. Goodview city leaders all believe widening the narrow road is a very important safety project, but not all of them want to take over the long-term costs of plowing and maintaining the road. County officials hinted that they might scrap the project if Goodview refuses to take over the road. Jacob and Winona County Highway Engineer Dave Kramer were at the Goodview City Council’s last meeting, when they asked the city to approve an agreement to take over the road when the $2-million-plus project was finished. The council declined to act on the agreement and sent city administrator Dan Matejka and a couple council members to this week’s County Board meeting to get a firm answer to the question: will the county scrap the project if Goodview refuses?
Ward and Jacob argued that, if Goodview will not take the road, the county should pursue a less expensive option than spending $2 million on a mere 1.4-mile stretch of road. Ward said her constituents who live on gravel roads ask her, “What are you doing, lady, spending that kind of money on that stretch of road?” Jacob pointed to Goodview Road’s history. It was a township road until the 1990s, when the county took it over because townships could not afford to fix a collapsed bridge. For years, it operated without the bridge and without through access. For years, people got along fine without it being a through road, Jacob said. “There’s no obligation to the middle third of that road to upgrade it,” he stated.
Winona County Engineer Dave Kramer raised concerns that a move to not improve the stretch serving Hidden Valley Mobile Home Park would be inequitable and unfair to those residents.
Kovecsi argued for improving the road. Olson joined her, saying that the county had committed to this road project when it approved the sales tax. Telling Goodview the county will only do it if it takes over the road — “That would be kind of second guessing the whole nature of why we did this whole half-cent sales tax,” he said. “Is this going to happen on every project?” he asked.
That left Pomeroy as the swing vote. He said the county should assume that Goodview is not interested in taking ownership of the road and should move forward with fixing it like it would any other county road. He said that Jacob’s proposal to pursue a less expensive option might be seen as “punitive,” but he ultimately voted with Ward and Jacob to direct Kramer to come up with a more accurate cost estimate for the project as originally planned as well as options for lower cost alternatives that the county might pursue.
In addition to the proposal to not widen the middle section of the road, Kramer brought up another idea for reducing the project’s cost: building a separate bicycle and pedestrian path to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety instead of widening the road. Kovecsi said that would not address problems with blind driveways on the road and vehicular safety. Ward decried the idea of spending county funds on bike paths. “This is a highly travelled road and to do a partial safety fix doesn’t really look to the future,” Kovecsi said.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.