Officials concerned about project

BLUE EARTH – Faribault County commissioners objected Tuesday to the cost of the Highway 169 construction project. They want to know why the county is now being asked to pay more than double the original estimate.

Brett Benzkofer, construction engineer, was on the hot seat for the second time in less than 24 hours. He answered questions Monday evening at the Blue Earth City Council meeting.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is in charge of the construction on 169, but the city of Blue Earth and Faribault County will help pay for it.

Cost of the project is estimated at $8 million.

The bid-letting date is April 26.

Originally, Faribault County’s share was estimated at $350,000 when the project was proposed in 2007. Its share has ballooned to $724,000 if bituminous overlay is used and $795,000 if concrete is used.

“We weren’t very happy to get the news,” said Commissioner Tom Warmka.

Commissioner Tom Loveall acknowledged that the highway is “in rough shape” and needs work, but added that people don’t like the idea of roundabouts, let alone three of them.

Benzkofer agreed the road is “shot” and noted that an intersection control evaluation was performed.

“We made the decision that roundabouts will work,” he said, adding that they will reduce delay, especially at the high school corner in Blue Earth.

“You can drive right through a roundabout if no one’s coming,” he said.

The roundabouts also will reduce the speed at which people travel, especially coming in from the country, Benzkofer said. That is something the city requested.

Loveall pointed out that truckers are concerned about having room to maneuver through the circles.

“The diameter is 106 feet on Seventh,” Benzkofer said. “It’s sized for the biggest truck to go through. Not only trucks, but farm equipment.”

“This road is going through my district. I have a major issue with this price,” said Commissioner John Roper. “[The price] needs to be reduced, or I’ll probably vote no.”

One issue driving up the price, Roper said, is a change that has the county paying for more of the road. He also questioned the road design.

“Do we really need three roundabouts in a one-and-a-half-mile area?” he asked.

Roper believes in roundabouts but questions the wisdom of putting them in a small town like Blue Earth. He said someone can drive all the way to the Twin Cities on 169 and not go through a roundabout.

Commissioner Bill Groskreutz doesn’t believe the city needs that many roundabouts either, but worries about the cost going up if the project is delayed again.

“I’m disappointed in the way this project has progressed,” he said.

Commissioner Greg Young said the project has been well thought out and he will support it, but he objected to the price.

“We don’t have it in the budget,” he said bluntly.