The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 6, 2013

Faribault County ready to fight MnDOT price tag on highway work

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

BLUE EARTH — The county’s tab for an $8 million state summer road project at Blue Earth isn’t sitting well with the Faribault County Board of Commissioners.

“I’m very optimistic we’ll get a reprieve, but if we don’t, there will be a big fight,” Board Member Tom Warmka said.

At issue is the county’s cost-share for the project.

When the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2007 proposed the work on Highway 169, Faribault County’s share was estimated at $350,000.

But that cost has now more than doubled — to $724,000 or $795,000, depending on whether bituminous overlay or concrete is used in the road refurbishing.

MnDOT engineer Brett Benzkofer said the cost difference rests with a shift in the state’s cost-splitting formula involving state and local-government project funding.

Benzkofer said he empathizes with the County Board’s fiscal concerns and will ask MnDOT’s central office to grant a cost-share exception to place the county’s burden more in line with the original estimate.

“We need to reconcile that, hopefully next week,” Benzkofer said.

That’s vital because project bid-letting is slated for later this month with work to begin in early June.

Warmka wryly notes that if Faribault County gets the anticipated  reprieve, the cost will probably just be kicked down the road to another local government entity somewhere.

“If we go back to the old formula, somebody somewhere isn’t going to be so lucky.”

Commissioners also question whether all three roundabouts planned for the project are necessary.

The intent of roundabouts is to improve traffic flow and safety at intersections by eliminating stoplights and stop signs.

“But to be perfectly honest, we don’t have enough traffic for a stoplight,” Warmka said.

The Highway 169 work at Blue Earth is one of about two dozen 2013 MnDOT road projects planned for the Mankato region. Total cost of the projects is $78 million.