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Wheelage tax weighed for road sealing

Goodhue County has fallen behind on road maintenance, and commissioners agreed Tuesday the newly approved county wheelage tax is the best way to catch up.

Nearly three dozen stretches of county road need to be resealed over the next five years, County Engineer Greg Isakson said at a Committee of the Whole discussion.

“This is where we think we’ll get the best bang for the buck,” Isakson said.

Seal coating every seven or so years is necessary for paved roads to reach their 50-year lifespan, he said. Once the seal coat fails, the road begins to fail.

The estimated cost to seal one mile of road is $25,000, according to a staff report. Just over 180 miles of county roads will need resealing over the next five years, bringing the total estimated cost of the project to around $4.5 million.

The $10-per-vehicle wheelage tax approved by County Board in July is expected to bring in just over $400,000 of revenue annually starting in 2014, or around $2 million over five years.

That means a roughly $2.5 million project shortfall through 2018, Isakson said.

But, he added, the county already spends an average of $423,000 a year on seal coating — just shy of the estimated $500,000 yearly shortfall.

“What this tells me is that as long as something else doesn’t get thrown in here, we’re real close to getting all these projects done if we take the full wheelage tax and apply it to them,” Isakson said.

Board Chair Dan Rechtzigel said seal coating seems like a good fit for the wheelage tax.

“These are user fees, without a doubt, and from looking at the list of roads that are going to be maintained with these dollars, it’s all over the county,” Rechtzigel said.

He added: “We’re generating the revenue from all over the county, and the benefits are going back all over the county.”

Seal coating involves layering small rocks and oil to prevent water from penetrating a paved surface, Isakson said.

Once the seal is damaged by traffic and snowplow blades, water can seep into the ground and freeze, which begins to rip the road apart, he said.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of micro-surfacing roadways as an alternative to seal coating.

Micro-surfacing helps even out ruts and divots which can collect water and cause additional road damage over time, Isakson said.

The estimated cost of micro-surfacing is $60,000 a mile, according to Goodhue County Public Works.

“A few county roads may make more sense to do micro-surfacing, so costs could go up a little bit,” Isakson said.

Commissioner Jim Bryant also suggested the possibility of switching certain roads to concrete instead of asphalt.

“We are looking more and more at doing more concrete,” Isakson said. “It costs a little bit more upfront, but you don’t have to put a seal coat on it at seven or 10 years.”

A concrete road typically requires patching after 25 years, but that is the only major maintenance required for a 50-year lifespan, he said.

The Minnesota Legislature gave counties the option to implement a wheelage tax this summer. The tax will be collected by the state and then given back to counties through monthly payments.

Stretches of County Roads 1, 11, 12 and 13 are scheduled for seal coating work in 2014, according to a staff report.

“We look forward to seeing all of this coming together, and maybe looking at a couple of new approaches,” Rechtzigel said.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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