Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


The Nicollet County Board of Commissioners continues deliberations during the budget process as we prepare to set our final levy for 2008. Debate and discussions among the board members, our county auditor/treasurer, and administrator have centered on funding of our local levy. We have set the high benchmark for the levy and can only lower it at this point. However, we can borrow funds for capital projects such as road reconstruction.
Commissioner James Stenson, our county board chair pointed out recently that the Constitution of the State of Minnesota, in addition to setting up the structure of state and local government, has two main duties. They are education and transportation. We all know that the state has fallen behind and is not practicing due diligence in either of these areas.
150 years ago, when this area was settled, roads were the main concern of the citizens. The records of New Sweden Township state the following:

The township was divided into districts, each with an elected road overseer whose job was the building and maintaining of roads. In 1864 the township was divided into two road districts and each man in each district was assessed three days of work on the road. It was the overseer’s job to grade the road, supervise construction and see that assessed labor was done.

What did they mean when they referred to “assessed labor”?

In the 1890’s the township started graveling roads. The town purchased several gravel pits, and the graveling was done by men who had been assessed one or more days of work on the road.

It was not uncommon for the landowners in certain areas to volunteer their time and equipment to help build the roads. Many local roads were built in this manner. Eventually, it was realized that more than just local people used the roads and a system of county roads and state highways was set up and a funding stream was put in place to build and maintain them.

It has worked well for over 100 years. However, the last 20 years have seen that state funding stream run dry. The gas tax we presently have is not doing the job. So counties have resorted to using local tax dollars to maintain our local and our county state aid roads.
To some extent we are doing just as our ancestors did. We are assessing the labor of the local citizens to care for our roads. In effect, all of our roads have become local roads. Since we are getting no help from the state, perhaps we can ease the burden on our tax payers by setting up toll booths at the county borders and assess non-residents for driving on the roads to help to pay for them.end

Friday, September 07, 2007


Shame on you! Shame on all of you! I am pointing my finger at the Governor and the leaders of the Minnesota House and Senate – Democrats and Republicans! Don’t you realize the image you are portraying by holding the people of Southeastern Minnesota hostage? They need help now and you are delaying hours and days and weeks with your self-centered wrangling. Wake up! Winter is on the way. They need to put their lives back together before cold weather and ice and snow cover the landscape. Your overall lack of leadership is appalling. Quit acting like junior high age youth and start acting like statesmen! end

Sunday, September 02, 2007


As we watched the 6pm news on August 1, and saw the collapsed bridge my first thought was a very cynical one. I hate to admit that these thoughts even entered my mind, but they did. In fact, I even said it out loud, “Maybe now, they (meaning legislature and governor) will do something about transportation funding!”

For over 13 years, in my career as a county commissioner, transportation funding has been the number one priority. And for 13 years nothing has been done. And nothing was being done before I came in office. Nothing has been done since 1988. If we ran our businesses this way, we would be out of business!

Recently the Association of Minnesota Counties AMC has set forth some basic principles to help get us back to where we need to be and to keep our state moving forward. These principles include: safety; additional capacity for farm to market roads, reducing congestion. To help the implementation of these principles the AMC is asking for adequate revenue streams and that transit systems have a dedicated funding source.

These requests are not anything new. The AMC has been lobbying for practices such as these for years. These are not asking for “pie in the sky”. These are needs that must be met just to keep our economy rolling. If it were yours or my business, these are needs that we would invest in so our business would keep pace with competition and insure a profit.

While I use the analogy to make a point, the state’s highway system is not a business; it is part of an infrastructure that makes for a good quality of life. The citizens expect to have a transportation system that is efficient and safe. To quote Myra Peterson, Washington County Commissioner, and Chair of the AMC Transportation Policy Committee, “How do we tell the families of bridge victims that we are sorry? How do we tell families that the ditch was too steep and the car rolled over killing their child? How do we tell the child left behind that his parent lost their life because of an inadequate rail crossing?”

We need an infusion of funding into a system. In Nicollet County alone, the project needs are in the area of $8.3 million. The section of County Road 5 (Fort Road) that is ready to be built is now $5 million. When we met with Reps. Brynaert and Morrow and Sen. Sheran last December, the estimate was $3.8 million. This funding would take a road with steep, unforgiving ditches, rebuild it to a safe design and make it strong enough to hold the heavier weights of today’s farm vehicles.

The time is now. The legislative leaders need to come to an agreement and get the job done. end