Bleak picture painted for future of area roads

Otter Tail County officials, including Board Chair Lee Rogness, Pelican Rapids area commissioner Wayne Johnson and Rick West, county engineer, presented at the regional Transportation Alliance meeting at Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center October 5.

The goal was to present funding needs and the current state of transportation funding. MDOT, Clay County as well as local area transit providers including Moorhead Area Transit and Transit Alternatives of Otter Tail County participated as well.

The last legislative session ended without a transportation bill and West said the need is dire. Because funding has been held up in legislative wrangling, Otter Tail County has implemented a ranking system, in cooperation with MNDOT, to assess the greatest need.

West said there are 1,070 miles of roads and 76 bridges in Otter Tail County and currently 33% of roads are ranked as poor and 17% are very poor. Together, that is 50% of roads that are in immediate need of repair or replacement. The other 50% are ranked as fair (31%), good (4%) and very good (16%). The cost for road repair and replacement is $1 million a mile for 2 lane rural roads and $400,000 a mile for pavement reconditioning.

Because of stifled state funding, the county has implemented a local option sales tax and a wheelage tax to raise funds for roads which raises approximately $4 million annually. However, commissioner Johnson pointed out that the funding gap is still approximately $7.5 million per year.

Area representatives and candidates also attended the informational session including Senator Kent Eken, Representatives Paul Marquart and Ben Lien as well as Otter Tail County Minnesota House 8A candidate CJ Holl and Senate District 8 candidate Shawn Olson.

All agreed that all options have to be considered. Representative Marquart said compromise has to be part of the discussion to create a long term solution. Senator Eken said he expects the transportation funding issue to be front and center for consideration in the 2017 legislative session.