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Supervisors Thinking Early About Road Embargoes

By Staff | Aug 6, 2009

Even though the first hard freeze is hopefully a few months off, and the winter freeze and spring thaws even further off, Palo Alto County Supervisors are already in the mindset of embargoing county roads. The discussion has been ongoing for over a week, having first surfaced during the July 28 board meeting, and then coming up again during Tuesday’s regular meeting at the Palo Alto County Courthouse.

The Supervisors, with guidance from Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz, enacted temporary embargoes on several of the county’s hard-surfaced roads in 2007, primarily during the Spring thaw, when the roadbeds were soft and the roads more susceptible to cracking due to heavy loads. That practice had worked well for the last two Spring thaws, and limited embargoes were also put in place for a short period of time during the Fall freeze, a move that also apparently worked well.

However, this Spring, the thaw, combined with abnormally heavy semi truck traffic west from Graettinger, caused severe damage to sections of County Road B14, starting about three miles west of the community. In less than a week’s time, the pavement broke up so badly, that in the past few weeks, county workers had to dig out the broken concrete and place patches over a three and a half-mile stretch of the roadway, with several hundred continuous feet of patches required in one two-mile section of the roadway.

While the supervisors knew repairs would have to be made, the price tag brought embargoes to the forefront of their thinking.

“I’m sorry to have to report that by the time we’ll be finished with the concrete patching work west of Graettinger, we will have spent over $300,000 for concrete and labor to fix the damaged road sections,” Fantz told the board members on July 28. “Just to compare, the new pavement at Depew cost us $463,000 a mile for a brand-new, eight inch pavement.”

“Here we are, trying to build new roads and we’re almost spending as much money to fix the old ones,” noted Supervisor Keith Wirtz.

“If we want to have money to build new roads in the future, then we can’t spend this much money to repair old roads damaged by heavy loads, that’s for sure,” agreed Board Chair Ed Noonan.

“B14 was a road that just slipped under the radar this Spring, because we hadn’t had trouble with it before,” Fantz noted. “But, Ron (Graettinger) called me and said it was breaking up, and we went ahead and put an embargo on it as soon as we could, but the damage had already been done.”

Board members agreed that little could have been done at the time to stop the damage, but that embargoes would be the best answer, temporarily, to try and prolong the useable life of the county’s hard-surfaced roads.

“I’m thinking we need to send letters out to the elevators and feed mills, reminding them in advance that we’re going to be putting embargoes on these roads, and that if they can find alternate routes, that would be a good idea,” Noonan said. “Are we going to suggest alternate routes for them?”

“That would be a tough call,” Fantz replied.

“What about the gravels when the frost is going out? Would we just be asking for more trouble there?” Wirtz asked.

“We’ll just have to watch and get on them as soon as we can when they get rutted up,” Fantz answered.

Wirtz agreed with the idea, and suggested that letters be sent to area producers who had semis that might be affected by embargoes as well.

A question was then raised as to which roads should be embargoed. At first, not all of the hard-surfaced roads were being considered, but as the discussion continued, the board came to a consensus that it would be more effective to be able to embargo all county hard surfaced roads, should the conditions dictate such action, for both the Fall freeze and Spring thaw seasons.

“That does make sense,” Fantz agreed, “because it will be easy to tell when the frost is going out in the Spring, when the water starts weeping to the road surface. We can embargo the roads for a brief period of time like we have in the past, and hopefully we can prolong the life of these roads.”