Ken Saffert

Ken Saffert

The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Ken Saffert, Mankato’s city engineer for 30 years, is retiring next month and his absence is one factor in the delay of a major road project.

Saffert, 65, is taking a buyout the city is offering to entice its employees to retire. Bought-out staff get to stay on the city’s health plan for three years.

An overhaul to Thompson Ravine Road, and the ravine itself, was planned for this season, but the undertaking will require more time than Saffert has before his last day on March 31.

Drainage work alone, which could include new pipes and adding “armor” to the creek, will cost about $1 million, he said.

Saffert said the residents believe the area to have a “country atmosphere,” and the project will have to balance that desire with the size and traffic of a new street.

In addition, an alley paving project that was originally planned to include between 12 and 15 alleys will be cut by 25 percent.

Budget worries are also a factor with both delays.

When Saffert joined the city in 1978, the big-picture problems were in some ways similar to today’s.

The one-way paired streets on Broad and Fourth had been implemented a few years earlier, but traffic planners still wanted reliable, high-volume routes through town.

That led to extensive work on Riverfront Drive and Madison Avenue — two roads that are now undergoing changes as those one-way streets are changed back to two-ways.

The first phase of the Highway 22 bypass, the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Stoltzman Road were three major city projects, Saffert said.

He said about $200 million was spent in the 1970s and ’80s on flood control. It was largely a federal project, but the city still had to deal with its implications for Mankato.

Overall, much of his job over the years has been to ensure the city’s infrastructure is well maintained. He may not know every sewer or block of city street, but he does know when it fails.

Saffert said two others on the engineering staff have the state license necessary to perform his job, so his department can make it without him.

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