Wright County preparing for massive road sign overhaul

By John Holler

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Wright County is embarking on one of its most massive countywide projects in the coming months — a project five years in the making. Of the 135,000 miles of roads in Minnesota, 56,000 of them are township roads and many of them have road warning signs that have long-since outlived their usefulness.

At the meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, County Highway Engineer Wayne Fingalson came before the board seeking approval of an agreement with the 18 townships in the county to replace all township road signs and eliminate signs that don’t serve a significant purpose.

“We have a lot of pink stop signs in the townships,” Fingalson said. “Many of them are 25 years old or more and are in need of replacing. This program is an ideal way to get this done inexpensively for townships.”

In 2005, federal money became available for replacement of township road signs and Minnesota jumped at the chance to access the funds. While the funding for the program has ended, Wright County got in early enough to secure the funds before they dried up.

“The program started in 2006 as a pilot project with six counties in the state (Carver, Houston, McLeod, Mille Lacs, Todd and Watonwon),” Fingalson said. “Wright County wasn’t included in the initial phase and there were some problems that arose that needed to get the bugs worked out of them. The plan was to have a second wave of six counties get done, but that was reduced to two — Wright and Stevens counties. The project is designed to replace needed signs and eliminate those that aren’t needed.”

Wright County has 950 miles of township roads and the amount of the grant money secured by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for the project in the county is approximately $1 million. Of that cost, only 20 percent will be borne by the townships. Without the program, townships would be on the hook for 100 percent of sign replacement costs, which is why so many have been retained despite being old and faded.

The first phase of the project has been completed — inventorying township road signs and developing a plan to replace them. The cost of Phase I was about $200,000, with $38,000 of that being charged back to townships. Fingalson said the inventory showed the county has more than 5,800 signs that will be replaced, with the hope being that 10-15 percent of them can be eliminated. The advantage to the program is that street name signs will be replaced as well, including those on county and state roads that intersect with township roads

The board approved the agreement to forward to the quarterly township officers meeting, which was set for July 11. The costs will be divided among the township based on the number of signs that will be replaced. All 18 townships need to sign off on the project for Phase II to take place.

In other items on the agenda, the board:

RECEIVED word from County Assessor Greg Kramber that, for the 10th straight year, Wright County had no changes made to its assessing reports by the Minnesota State Board of Appeals and Equalization, which oversees county auditor reports. In Kramber’s 10 years as county assessor, Wright County has received a clean audit of its assessments. In the past, a couple of commissioners pointed out that there were consistently one or two items that were cited for changes by the state. Kramber credited his office and local assessors for the unprecedented streak of clean audits from the state.

APPROVED an agency agreement with MnDOT to act as the county’s agent in accepting federal grant money for the Highway 55 Corridor Coalition. The agreement calls for the county to hire a consultant to manage the activities of the coalition. The coalition was formed in 2001 and the current contract expired June 8. The proposal calls for a three-year consultant contract. 80 percent of the costs for the consultant will be paid by federal grant dollars.

ACKNOWLEDGED receipt of the proceeds of the annual Wright County auction. The county’s net proceeds from the auction were $71,882 — with $43,725 going to the sheriff’s department for seized items involved in arrests and $28.157 going into the county’s general fund.

DENIED a request from the sheriff’s department to refer a request to fill an open office tech position in the corrections division to the personnel committee. The position has technically been open since 2007 and the sheriff’s department was under the impression that the budgeted position would be filled once the county’s job classification study was completed. That process was done this spring. Instead, the board voted to refer the matter to the budget committee of the whole, while will begin meeting later in July in preparation of setting the 2013 budget and levy.

RECEIVED an update on the County Ditch 38 problems. Commissioner Dick Mattson said that he met with a Burlington Northern Railroad official that said part of the backup of water flow may be the result of the railroad improperly installing a drainage pipe under the track bed. Mattson said the railroad is willing to re-install a 30-inch pipe at its own expense, which could alleviate the current problem.