Yesterday, a crew from Zenke, Inc., worked on replacing one of several culverts underneath Winona County Road 113 south of St. Charles.
A four-mile stretch of the road is slated to be resurfaced in August or September. It is one of two big repaving projects Winona County will complete this year.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Yesterday, the Winona County Board toured road repair projects currently underway, drove past projects planned for the coming years, and travelled on some bumpy roads with no funding for repairs in sight. Meanwhile, in the far southwestern corner of Winona County, an excavating crew was busy replacing culverts underneath County Road 113. It is one of several upcoming projects that likely would not be possible without the county’s half-cent sales tax for road repairs.
County Road 113 is pockmarked with potholes and patches. Replacing the culverts and then repaving a 4.26-mile-long stretch is expected to cost the county $1.8 million this season. Unlike County State Aid Highways (CSAHs), which receive large amounts of funding from state fuel taxes, there is no state funding for County Road 113. It is all up to the county. “To try to fund a project like that [with property tax dollars], when it’s competing with all the other priorities for the county tax levy, it’s probably not practical,” Winona County Engineer Dave Kramer stated. The road runs past the county’s only permitted frac sand mine, the Nisbit mine, and a road use agreement requires the mine to pay a fee to the county for road repairs for every ton of frac sand it hauls away. However, the fee only applies when the mine sells sand for hydraulic fracturing, not for construction purposes or for dairy cow bedding. So far the latter is all it has done, so there have been no tonnage fees to help pay for road repairs, either.
There was some talk of converting County Road 113 to gravel, Kramer mentioned. “It is difficult to justify having two paved county roads parallel to each other a mile apart,” he said, referring to CSAH 33, just east of County Road 113. “But the flip side of that is that if you live on County Road 113 and have for many years, it’s been paved, and there’s an expectation that it will continue to be paved.” Kramer added, “The sales tax was just critical for a road like that, to be able to maintain it.”
The county’s half-cent sales tax was controversial when it passed on a 3-2 vote in 2016. Most Winona-based commissioners voted against it. The sales tax will not totally reverse the trend of county roads gradually getting worse faster than they are repaired, Kramer said, but across the county, it is expected to help get a lot of repairs completed that would otherwise not happen. Between now and 2022, Kramer’s department plans to utilize almost $10.6 million in sales tax revenue. The sales tax revenues make up a quarter of highway department’s capital investment budget.
Winona city officials have continued to eye the county’s sales tax proceeds enviously. This past winter, several city officials suggested that the county share its sales tax revenues with the city, since the vast majority of sales taxes in Winona County are generated within Winona city limits. The idea did not get very far, but there is one project in Winona this year that will benefit from sales tax dollars. Although it is only a portion of the project’s total cost and a cost the county would have been responsible for regardless, a stoplight replacement project coming up this year at Huff Street and Highway 61 will get $200,000 in sales tax from the county. The city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation are also helping to fund the stoplight replacement and a new crosswalk at the intersection.
After plans to reconstruct County Road 129 (Goodview Road) with sales tax funds this year had to be pushed back to 2019, the county’s other major road resurfacing project in 2018 is north of Lewiston on CSAH 25. CSAH 25 connects Lewiston and Rollingstone, and rural residents along the route petitioned the county a few years ago, demanding that the rutted road be repaired immediately. Later this summer, the county will launch a seven-mile-long repaving and culvert replacement project, funded with $2.7 million in federal grant funds and $880,000 in state aid.
A complete list of upcoming road projects and funding sources is available on the county’s website, www.co.winona.mn.us, on the highway department’s page.