City streets are something most of us take for granted, unless the driving surface is rough. Driving over potholes and bumps we wince, and we complain about the rough ride and the damage that we’re certain is happening to our cars and trucks. And rightly so.
Granite Falls has somewhere around 20 miles of streets, most of them are paved but a few, on the fringe of the town, that are gravel surfaced. All of them require some level of maintenance and nearly every year a certain number require rebuilding. The punishing weather extremes in Minnesota are tough on pavement and that assures the need for a regular program of street construction. This year’s street program is Granite is expected to get underway sometime next week, and it’s bound to cause some tough, but necessary, inconvenience. Duininck Brothers, Inc. was the low bidder for this year’s street work, which also includes installing a water main connecting loop under Third Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. That additional water main will ensure more reliable water pressure and availability.
The need to upgrade or install underground utilities is always a factor in selecting street projects. Striking a balance between the expected life of a street surface and the expected life of the utilities beneath that street can be a challenge.
Of course, none of this work is cheap. This year’s relatively modest street program requires the city to sell $990,000 in municipal bonds to finance the work. The water main loop work requires an additional bond amount of $70,000, for a total of $1,060,000.
Fortunately, the city’s A+ bond rating and a dip in the bond sale market worked in our favor. The successful bidder, United Banker’s Bank of Bloomington, offered a lower than expected interest rate of 2.2063 percent. The city’s bond consultants had predicted the interest rate could be around 2.90 percent. The lower rate will save the city several thousand dollars.
Even with that, the cost of street maintenance is substantial and is rising each year. So is the cost of building and maintaining highways. Minnesota collects 28.6 cents on each gallon of gas that is sold in the state. That is the 29th highest gas tax in the nation and it is estimated that a bit more than 10 percent of that tax is paid by non-residents who are traveling through the state. The gas tax was last raised in 2008, Prior to that it was raised in 1988. Each time the increasing cost of road, bridge and highway construction has far out-paced the rise in gas tax collections.
Those gas tax receipts get divided by a formula that sets aside 62 percent to the state trunk highway system, 29 percent to the county state aid highway system and nine percent to cities with over 5,000 population. The legislature in 2015 decided to address the needs of cities under 5,000 by allocating $12.5 million to cities under 5,000 in population for street maintenance. That provided around $38,000 to Granite Falls. That’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing.
A highway engineer told me that if we saved up that amount for seven or eight years, we’d be able to buy a set of traffic lights for one intersection. Or put another way, $38,000 would be enough to pay for overlaying (not rebuilding) one third of one block of a city street. Still, every penny helps, at least in theory. At the urging of cities all around Minnesota, the legislature funded that program for cities under 5,000 again in 2017 and once more in 2018. However, they cut the total state-wide amount each year to $8 Million. That meant that in both 2017 and 2018 the state provided $24,116 to Granite Falls and $11,717 to Clarkfield. Not much, but better than nothing, I guess. During the 2019 session, the legislature failed to provide any additional funding for streets in cities under 5,000 population. Maybe next year. We’ll see. This year’s $990,000 street program in Granite will go forward and will be paid for with property taxes and assessments. It seems like it’s time for legislators to realize the need for local road and street funding. 84 percent of Minnesota’s roads are city streets or township roads and they play an important and everyday role in all Minnesotans lives. And many of those roads and streets are in need of major work. Cities won’t back away from repairing and upgrading streets and utilities. Even with low interest rates, they will need help paying for that work. Which begs another question: With very low interest rates, and the state’s AAA bond rating, why didn’t the legislature pass a capitol investment (Bonding) bill this past session? It was an opportunity to make many much-needed improvements, but they dropped the ball. They blinked. Cities didn’t and won’t. And that’s how street and utility work will get done and be paid for, once again. * * * * * * We’re very fortunate to have several unique and colorful events in our area each year. Certainly, none of these is more colorful and unique than the Upper Sioux Community’s Traditional Wacipi or pow-wow. We were out of town on Saturday and had made plans to be at Richter Field for the youth baseball fundraiser on Sunday afternoon, so Friday evening was the time for a ride down highway 67 to the Wacipi grounds near the former Firefly Creek casino. There was a nice-sized turnout with at least a dozen drum groups and colorful regalia of all types, plenty of food and souvenir vendors and lots of camping. There is nothing else quite like a wacipi. It’s a cultural and social event that draws folks from a wide area. They attend to sing, drum and dance as well watch and listen. There are connections made and renewed. And there are people of all ages, kids, grandparents, young adults and middle-agers. And this year the Wacipi took place in a newly constructed circular arbor that was built in the last 10 weeks by local Upper Sioux craftsmen and laborers. Tribal Chairman Kevin Jensvold told me that the tribe had the design and detailed plans drawn up by a Native American architect and engineer, but the construction was done by local folks. The large sturdy wood posts are bolted to steel foundation pads and upper steel beams. The sloping truss rafters support a dark green metal roof that provides shade and shelter for folks in the bleachers and their chairs as well as the drum groups. It’s an impressive event site and will last a long time into the future. And, it will serve to ensure that the annual Wacipi will go on for many more years. Congratulations to the Upper Sioux Community for this significant improvement and the wonderful event.