If You Can’t Pay For It, Don’t Try to Build It


Mankato, MN

In what I assume is an attempt to blow as much money as possible, Blue Earth County has decided that they are going to extend tiny Highway 12 an additional two miles in preparation for “growth” and a new school.

There’s nothing new about a new road being built. But there’s this one pesky problem: they have absolutely no idea how they plan on paying for this road.

According to this Free Press article, the Blue Earth County board authorized the purchase of the land, even though they don’t have the money, nor do they know how they’re going to get the money. It’s a case of “shoot first, ask questions later”:

“Although the $1.5 million believed to be necessary to gain ownership of the land isn’t available, [county engineer] Forsberg said the plats can be finalized to preserve the right-of-way, appraisals can be done, and the purchases can be ready to go when the funds are provided.

The board has unanimously authorized Forsberg and the county attorney to procure the land, “including the use of eminent domain if needed.”

Fueled by the prospect of new sprawl, a dangerous school, and progress, the Blue Earth County board has exhausted their ideas on how to pay for this important new route.

They have secured $1.1M from the Federal Government, but were denied TIGER funds. However, their ambition doesn’t stop there. They have decided to try for a grant from the “Local Road Improvement Program,” but the chances of this working out aren’t very good.

Funding Optimism

The optimism, however, is there. County Engineer Al Forsberg said “The more discouraged other people get, the better our chances are,” in regard to the difficulty of the application process.

They’ve also tossed around, at least preliminarily, the idea of a local sales tax, but will ultimately probably use some of their general funds to purchase the land.

OK, so now that you’ve read all that, answer me this: When in history has a road that has been this “necessary” needed so many options to figure out funding? This road is a massive investment with little to no return as it stands right now or arguably in the future.

In the article the board talks about “taking traffic off Highway 22.” This road isn’t going to alleviate anything because there’s nothing that needs alleviating.  Highway 22, a four lane highway, carries about 19,400 cars a day and the road that this highway would intersect only carries about 5,700 Hardly worth an almost $10m investment. And we just went through Rotary Ragnarök here in Mankato which were built to alleviate traffic.



The justification is that the school and new development are headed out that way, but the final plat for the school still doesn’t have the full confidence of the city council and I have only seen one subdivision proposal for the area.

Here’s a visualization:


The blissful ignorance that the Blue Earth County Board shows is not only misguided, it’s dangerous. People are driving less and less and the County decides they’re hell-bent on putting in this road causing unneeded financial strain on both county and city governments.

What would happen if we took this approach to everything? I don’t know how I’m going to pay for that brand new boat, but darn it, I’m going to have it…without sacrificing anything, without working for it, without cutting back… I’ll just ask people for free money and hope I get it. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just reach into my retirement fund.

Absurdity at its finest.

12 thoughts on “If You Can’t Pay For It, Don’t Try to Build It

  1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    If they really think a road should be there, they can plat it on the Official Map, which would protect it from development. No need to go through the shenanigans and rush of trying to purchase the property now, especially if they don’t have the funding for it.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I think Adam’s point is legit. I’m with you, Matthias, that we shouldn’t lay down a 5-lane stroad tomorrow “in anticipation” of future development. But platting the road, and maybe even buying right-of-way, is important in planning for future development, should it occur. In Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, for example, France Avenue was never completed to 394 (though they had partial right-of-way), and as a result, all Excelsior Blvd traffic has to navigate through Uptown to reach downtown and the regional freeway system — making Hennepin and West Lake St more unpleasant and dangerous for everyone.

      That exact situation is unlikely to be replicated in Mankato, but I think it’s one good example of the cost of not setting aside land for future roadway needs. Don’t lay out a ton of money now, but keep the door open so that future needs can be accommodated.

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    If they have a superstroad with only 19,400 AADT immediately to the west, why do they think they need more roads? The idea of “traffic” in exurban and outstate areas is rather laughable. I was just talking to someone about “traffic problems” on 55th St NW in Rochester… I drive that frequently due to some business we have down there. What people think is “traffic” is truly laughable. But if only the response was funny. The irrational response to this irrational problem is bankrupting us, one stroad at a time.

  3. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

    I’d like to know more about that “dangerous school”. Seems like a massive poor decision on so many different fronts.

  4. Nathaniel

    Thanks for writing this Matthias.

    Mankato is going through an identity crisis. On one hand, it’s trying really, really hard to make it’s Downtown more appealing. Yet, it’s spending so much time and money on some of the worst types of suburban sprawl.

    It’ smart to secure right-of-way, but this is not the direction or which Mankato ought to be growing. In fact, if you run the numbers on a real cost-benefit, this sprawl inducing road will be a major loser for the city in the next 20 years. It’s speculative in nature, but even if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a positive return on it.

    It’s clear to me that Mankato needs new leadership. It’s stuck in the 1990s.

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  7. Andrew

    Matt, wait until you hear about the proposed $220 million realignment for Highway 53 in Virginia, MN….

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      True. The Hwy 53 roadway was built on an easement since the 50s. They should have had backup plans readied, and bypass right of way slowly acquired, and some funding stashed away the whole time.

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