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Safety comes with a price tag, and for Houston County it’s $3.1 million.

That’s the total budgeted amount for materials associated with at least a dozen 2017 construction projects, said Brian Pogodzinski, county engineer at the Houston County Department of Transportation. While the dollar amount reflects materials only, as opposed to labor and staffing, it encompasses a number of major repairs needed throughout the county.

Many of them are completed as autumn settles in.

“We wanted to complete as much as possible over the summer months,” Pogodzinski said, “so we didn’t impact school buses.”

Most of the projects, which span bridge replacements, culvert reconstructions, paving and grading, came in at—or under—budget, he said. While some are being completed, most roads are open to traffic.

Those include bridge constructions in Blackhammer and La Crescent townships, with approach gradings and aggregate bases, as well as Sheldon Township’s Swede Bottom Road.

Hwy. 21, a mile southeast of Spring Grove, also saw an estimated $140,000 major up-size of a culvert, which went from 5 feet 60 inches to 14-by-5 feet.

“So, that was a huge increase,” he said. “It’s something that’s been on our radar for quite some time.”

The need for the repair came from excessive rainfall which caused the old culvert to overtop three times in five weeks.

While a bridge rehabilitation on Hwy. 4 was pushed back to 2018, a $15,000 school crossing in La Crescent was wrapped up before school began, itself a unique collaboration between the school district, the county and the city. That was completed in August, Pogodzinski said.

Not everything on the county’s list, however, is done.

A $700,000 bridge replacement on Hwy. 19 in Blackhammer Township is slated to begin next week, largely because the county wanted to wait until the main camping season was finished before traffic delays. It’s slated to take three months to finish, he said.

By far, the largest project to come in over the initial estimated budget would be the total of 6 miles of paving in the Yucatan and Money Creek townships, along highways 15 and 26 (roughly 3-mile stretches each). While they were budgeted at an estimated $615,000, they’ll end up costing more along the lines of $850,000.

That, Pogodzinski said, is because the county sought bids for an innovative practice of injecting a blend of concrete in with the conventional base, as well as double chip sealing, giving the roads more strength, longevity, as well as a better ride surface, but the county didn’t receive any bids on the job. It’s not something that’s been done in this part of the state, he said.

The overall goal is to keep costs down, while also minimizing the impact construction has on travelers. It’s not always a perfect science, especially in La Crescent Township, which has seen a lot of construction in recent years.

Take, for instance, bridge repair on Highway 6 near Becky Moldenhauer’s residence. While the Moldenhauers, who own a dairy farm, are happy the county is replacing the bridge, it’s created two detours, both of which take an estimated 13 minutes.

“I didn’t clock the miles,” Moldenhauer said. “Yes, it’s an inconvenience, but it’s no big deal.”

But, because the road isn’t as passable as some, it creates other concerns, since there are three weeks yet to go before the replacement is completed.

“My husband would tell you it’s an inconvenience because it’s harvest time,” she said.

Teresa Walter, District 4’s Houston County commissioner, said the work being done throughout the county can be summed up in two words: Public safety.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Walter said.

She praised the 21-person staff at the county’s transportation department, 17 of whom are regularly on-site for the annual work, and who daily check every road, bridge and larger culverts to ensure safety. That’s key, she said, because equipment and trucks are getting heavier these days.

As far as Houston County and its most recent round of construction projects?

“It’s all running good,” she said.


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