Follow Up: How to Blow $20,000,000 on 1,100 People

After basking in  my 15 minutes of internet fame when my post hit the front page of Streetsblog (which was here on first), I was quickly shaken from my pedestal by pro-roaders, one of whom accused me of doing “no research” and “spewing bullshit.”

I’ve come to address such concerns of “the haters” that I’ve encountered on the interwebs and to solidify the argument that this project is over-engineered.

It seems to me that many people believe that $20 million for a rural road that dead ends in a small town is an OK investment. Many people on both sites were citing agriculture as a main reason for having this road be improved to what the DOT has in mind.

I can only imagine the vast number of farm implements that utilize this route, whether long or short hauling. Large tractors and harvesting equipment require adequate access to be able to properly farm the surrounding land. This is the livelihood of many more people that just the listed population of the town proper.

Again, I am not a farmer on or near highway 66, but I cannot imagine taking a small, windy, hilly road would be good for your farm equipment or be more efficient than driving a few extra miles to get to a main arterial with 4 lanes and a straighter path. This was just one of the arguments that I heard that was pro-road. I will take the time to say, I’m not anti-road,

I’m anti-spending20milliononaroadthatcarries1100people.

Below you can see some of the problems with taking this road for agriculture, the least of which being that the road ends in a residential neighborhood.

66 shots

I also have to call out that people are implying that the argument “how do you get goods to market” is valid in this case. What is this, 1910 where we eat what’s grown near us? 90% of the ag in this area is corn or soybeans and while, yes, while we have a large processing plant and grain silos in the valley, it’s pretty inefficient to use Highway 66 to get there IF that’s the destination for your crop. However, I reached out to the county engineer and this is what he had to say:

It serves as a farm to market route for a very productive, large agricultural area.  Also has high crash rate and large maintenance cost due to slides and sediment.  The project would provide a, safe and efficient farm to market route and provide access to commercial, educational, cultural and recreation opportunities for our citizens.  It would remain a scenic route.  ADT is not the only indicator of a road’s utility. i.e., is a thousand cars a day to a fast food restaurant as important as providing safe and efficient farm to market and citizen access? 


I don’t have sufficient information to comment on the safety issue.

I should be clear that I have no beef with our county engineer. I like him a lot and he’s been super helpful in me trying to get my pet project off the ground. In this instance, however, I find it really hard to believe that this route carries (over its life) $20m or above in ag products. The “because agriculture” is a biased argument. I know it’s a major part of Minnesota’s economy (especially down here), but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to give a select few farms a massive investment in their road, especially when we have other major roads near by.

County Road 10, which runs in/out of Good Thunder is carrying about the same amount of traffic daily that Highway 66 does. The benefit to CR10 is that it runs west to Highway 22 which then dumps you right in the sprawly commercial district of Mankato–the Mall, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc… A far more convenient route for any residents traveling out of or through Good Thunder as you’re probably coming to Mankato to go shopping. This is probably better in the long run anyway because Highway 22 is under capacity right now and we should look to get the most out of our roads.

CR 10Highway 22 also connects you directly with Highway 14, a major player in the local economy and a very heavily traveled road. Which now begs a better question, why not invest the money into Highway 14?

I was also confronted about the fact that the road had been damaged by floods over the past several years, including this last rain event. Seeing as how this year’s rain was a once in a 100 year rain, I think we can throw it out as an anomaly. The flood damage to the road almost exclusively happened in the 4 mile section of ravine-flanked road when you first get out of Mankato, not the long straight 8(ish) miles in corn fields that would carry the majority of agriculture traffic–ergo the argument that it’s flood damaged doesn’t really hold up because people are using it in its current state just fine. This all goes without saying that the entire cost of flood damage to Mankato’s infrastructure was about 5 million (in the major rain event.) Where are the priorities here?

The point more than anything is this, we don’t need this road to be upgraded to the tune of $20 million. Residents down here can’t really understand why this road is getting so much money. I drove the road and made a video about it which I’ll be posting later. After driving it there is no doubt in my mind that it needs upgrading, it is in really, really rough shape, definitely needs a repaving and structural upgrades at some points.

More than anything this project is promoting more of the same. Minnesota (America in general?) seems to have this idea that it’s our right to be able to take whatever route we want to wherever we need to be. This project is indicative of that. There’s no reason that repaving and small structural upgrades would not suffice for this road. Most everyone in the area effected by the road would be able to get to Mankato (assuming that’s where they’re going) without having a giant inconvenience in their lives.

The time will come when we can’t keep up with all our roads (really that time is now) so why not hone in and focus our efforts and our money on our most productive infrastructure?

I’m afraid this will be a liability that won’t be able to be kept up in the future.

5 thoughts on “Follow Up: How to Blow $20,000,000 on 1,100 People

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Preach. These engineers who decide where our money goes are the same reason why MoveMN would be doomed if it came to fruition. We have enough roads. Because we can’t even pay to maintain what we have.

  2. Froggie

    There are still a couple key facts that you ignored/didn’t include. Namely (and this is something Matt and I have discussed in the past): this is a road that is more appropriate at the county or local level than at the state level. But the county is not going to accept it until MnDOT rebuilds it. Given that the road hasn’t seen a full reconstruction since 1948 or a major repaving since 1989, it needs a lot of work as you yourself noted. A simple repaving probably won’t work…it needs to be rebuilt at least down to the base. Even if the road isn’t widened or curves redone, this is still probably close to, if not into, an 8-digit job.

    Also of note: one of the Streetsblog commenters suggested paving 552nd Ave between Good Thunder and Rapidan as an alternative to rebuilding Hwy 66. Would require paving about 5.5 miles of gravel road. About a mile longer than 66, though slightly less curvy overall. But has a nasty intersection with 169 while 66 has an interchange.

    Regarding your idea of Good Thunder traffic using County 10 over to Highway 22, I suspect they’re already doing that, hence why County 10 has the same level of traffic as Highway 66. Anything east of Victory Dr, it’s about the same distance. But from downtown west, it’s noticeably more mileage to divert over to 22.

  3. Stacy

    I don’t think the safety issue is something that should be brushed under the rug. If the County Engineer says there is a significant crash history and the project will improve that, I don’t know how you can just say “I don’t have sufficient information to comment,” and keep right on with your point as though it hadn’t come up. Safety improvements could be a significant part of the budget. If they are improving the curve radii and fundamental highway geometry, those costs add up fast.

    1. Janne

      Yes, Stacy, those costs do add up fast. And, those “improvements” often actually reduce safety on the road because they make them feel safer and people drive more dangerously. Very curvy, “dangerous” mountain roads tend to have the fewest accidents because people are careful, whereas super-safe interstate freeways have lots of deaths because people know they are “safe.”

      I know that is a generalization I’ve heard engineers give when they want to justify a project. It may be safe or it may not, and it’s difficult to question. I no longer trust it as a justification — although it’s possible it’s true. Give me data.

  4. Nathanael

    With Virginia discussing reducing paved roads to gravel due to the total unsustainability of their road budget… why is Minnesota building more stuff which you won’t be able to afford to maintain?

    Maybe it’s necessary to rebuild this road in situ and maybe that’s expensive — but widening it is merely adding future maintenance costs.

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