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Long Live The Crown

By Staff | Nov 4, 2008

It wasn’t a call to return to a monarchy, but a call to put crowns back into the county’s gravel roads that was the topic of a discussion by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors in its Oct. 28 meeting. The conversation about crowns in roadways was prompted by remarks from Supervisor Keith Wirtz after he drove several gravel roads a week earlier during a rainy spell.

“I think we need to do a better job of maintenance on some of our gravel roads,” Wirtz said to start the discussion. “I traveled pretty much the length of the county and on roads where there was a good crown, the rain drained right off and the road was great, but on roads where there was no crown and it was all dished out, the water stood there and the roads were just mush.”

Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz agreed that there were several roads where crowns were not well established, and that, couple with some roads being very wide, made for a difficult situation, especially in extended periods of rainfall.

“We try to get out and grade right after a raid, but sometimes the road is just too wide to get a crown going,” Fantz acknowledged.

“You can manicure a road all you want, but unless you fix it, it doesn’t do much good,” Wirtz noted.

With the Secondary Road Department recently finishing grading work on the N60 road project through the Depew corridor, the supervisors expressed opinions that such projects were putting the rest of the county’s roads on a back burner, so to speak.

“I think we need to have our guys out grading and maintaining, rather than grading the Ayrshire road project,” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said, with agreement from Wirtz.

Fantz noted that plans for the Ayrshire project on B53 do call for an outside firm to do the dirt work and grading for the project, which is slated to begin in 2010.

“We just need to get ahead of the maintenance,” Supervisor Ed Noonan said. “We’ve gotten behind on it. The biggest thing I see is that our maintenance is a matter of getting crowns back on these roads.”

“I’d agree with that,” Fantz said, pointing out that in his seven years in the county, re-grading of a road to cut the width and re-establish a crown on a roadway allows for about 10 miles a year to be reworked. “We’ve got 1,000 miles of gravel roads in the county, so we’re coming up on 80 miles of regarding.”

“I’d like to see us establish a road priority,” Hofstad said, “So we can get some things done on these roads.”

“If you look at it, our road system is just like spokes on a wheel,” Fantz explained. “More and more traffic from the rural area is coming into Emmetsburg with AGP and POET, meaning an increase in traffic and that’s why we’re looking at roads leading into the area, like 510 Avenue, for example.”

The discussion turned to roads that have widened out over time, and Hofstad suggested that the county’s gravel retriever units be used on 510 Avenue to narrow portions of that road.

“Let’s take the retriever out there and grade it until we get it right,” Hofstad said.

“We can certainly do that,” Fantz agreed.

Wirtz pointed out that while there are benefits to using retrievers, there are drawbacks, including the large clumps of grass that end up on the road following the procedure, and that the traveling public needs to be aware of the work when it takes place.

“When you’ve got a road with a good crown on it, it’s OK to drive on in wet weather,” Wirtz said. “But a flat road with no crown is just not good at all.”

As the discussion wound down, the board and Fantz agreed that the hiring of a dedicated maintainer operator earlier this summer had been a positive move.

“We all know that traffic has changed drastically on our gravel roads in recent years,” Fantz said. “But I think our guys have done a pretty good job in maintaining our roads. But, we are behind the power curve on some things, as you well know.”