A Main concern

MARSHALL – Motorists tired of dodging potholes on Main Street in Marshall will have to wait a bit before the ragged road receives an overdue long-term overhaul, but an immediate solution has been employed that MnDOT officials hope will hold up through the rest of the winter season. And the patching that took place last week, MnDOT hopes, will bridge the gap until 2015 when more intensive work will take place to restore one of Marshall’s busiest (and most burdensome) stretches of road.

After all the ice and snow was either cleared away or melted, MnDOT crews took to the roads last week to plug those suspension-rattling, axle-busting potholes that dot Main.

“We trying to find some time in between storms,” said MnDOT District 8 Highway Maintenance Superintendent Craig Gertsema.

Gertsema said MnDOT was out filling potholes with a temporary cold-mix last week and has MnDOT roads in the city covered as far as pothole maintenance. MnDOT’s work included both East College Drive and Main Street, including its intersection with Southview Drive, notoriously one of Marshall’s most notorious breeding grounds for deep potholes.

“The last few years they’ve been bad – a lot of potholes through there,” Gertsema said of Main Street, which is under MnDOT jurisdiction. “We did the same thing as we did last year with a temporary patch, and once those hot (batch) plants open up, we’ll get out there to do that. Every year you’ve got that freeze-thaw cycle, and if they don’t get sealed up, you get that water in there all over again. And Marshall’s got a lot of heavy traffic going through eating these roads up.”

MnDOT District 8 Public Affairs Coordinator Director Judy Jacobs said once the winter season passes and crews no longer have to worry about clearing ice and snow from the roads, they can turn their attention to smoothing things out – first with the cold batch, then, if needed, a hot mix after spring road restrictions are lifted.

MnDOT limits truck weights to prevent damage to roads weakened during the spring thaw. Ending dates for spring load restrictions will be established by monitoring roadway strength as weather conditions change. The cold batch is a Band-Aid solution but the only alternative until those road restrictions are lifted and hot batch material can be transported.

“During these months, the focus is on snow and ice,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had a really difficult winter – not so much in terms of severity, but we’ve had a lot of what we call nuisance storms. They take the same amount of resources to deal with the roads as a 10-inch snowfall does.”

Jacobs said MnDOT has crews working split shifts, which means there is 24/7 coverage, except for when it gets so bad that plows are pulled off the roads.

She said the employees working to clear ice and snow in the winter are the same ones who will be filling potholes in the spring, which is one reason why pothole filling has to wait until the winter season winds down.

And it’s been quite a winter season. Jacobs said this winter – from December through February – crews have worked split shifts 49 out of 61 weekdays and 21 out of 29 weekend days or holidays, including Christmas.

“I’ve been with MnDOT for 23 years, and I don’t remember dealing with so many pothole issues and this kind of winter,” Jacobs said. “We consider this a severe winter even though we don’t have those big drifts of snow everywhere. And everything we do is weather-dependent.”

Gertsema said workers try to dry the potholes out as much as possible before filling them to allow the material to stick so it can keep water out. The cold-mix is the best it can do at this time of the year.

“We were out so many days last month, and in between we’ve gotta maintain trucks to get ready for the next storm,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got dozers going, snowblowers, big trucks out running; we hope that winter’s ended but we don’t know. We’ve gotta prepare like it’s not over.”

There is good news for local motorists – at least for those who are patient.

MnDOT is planning on a full pavement replacement on Marshall’s Main Street in 2015 as part of a busy summer schedule in Marshall.

The stretch of road from Southview Drive to just short of the Varsity Pub will be replaced with a 3-inch mill and overlay. The project will not include the intersection with College Drive because of utilities and signal issues, said MnDOT District 8 Project Supervisor Nick Klisch.

MnDOT will also reconstruct pedestrian ramps along the road to conform to standards under the American Disabilities Act and will retrofit the signals at crosswalks by moving the crossing buttons and putting them on their own posts to make them more accessible to those in a wheelchair. Another project in that area slated for next spring and summer is the stretch between Southview Drive and Minnesota Highway 23. Klisch said that part of road will be closed as MnDOT is planning a complete rebuild there.

“There are sub-surface failures below the pavement, so we’ll be taking all the pavement out,” Klisch said. “We’ll be taking out a couple feet of bad soil and rebuilding the road.”

A third project in 2015 is a 3-inch mill and overlay on East College Drive from Bruce Street to Minnesota Highway 23. All four lanes will be included in this project, which will be done under traffic.

The combined cost of those three projects is about $2.7 million.

Klisch said he would like to see the projects started as soon as school is out and hopes for completion in mid-July. At this point, he said, everything is tentative, so it’s difficult to pinpoint MnDOT’s exact schedule.

MnDOT will also do a 4 1/2-inch mill and overlay on U.S. Highway 59 from the junction of Minnesota Highway 68 to Lyon County Road 33 next summer. Also included in this project is the rehabilitation of the bridge over Channel Parkway. This project will include a detour.

The projects will be let under one contract which, Klisch said, will ensure that certain stages of construction don’t conflict with each other and will allow MnDOT to limit the durations and impacts of the projects.

“The term MnDOT uses for this process is ‘tying’ the projects together,” said Klisch. “Tying is a win-win-win situation since it offers better value for taxpayers through lower bid prices and balanced staffing, limits impacts to the traveling public and allows for one prime contractor to schedule the project rather than multiple contractors trying to schedule each project individually while trying to accommodate the other contractors.”

As far as other streets in Marshall, City Engineer Glenn Olson said the city uses a relatively new product that stays put in the holes better than the previous patching material did, meaning city crews don’t have to go back over and over to fill the same whole. Still, “even with the new material,” he said, “patching potholes is time consuming and never complete. As soon as the asphalt plant opens in the spring we will change to hot mix, which is our preferred and more permanent fix.”

The city used to fill holes with cold bituminous mix that wasn’t effective if there was moisture in the hole, Olson said.

Olson added that the winter 2013-14 was hard on public infrastructure, including streets and water lines because of the extreme cold and lack of snow that works as an insulator.

“During freeze/thaw cycles, the freezing expands the water and breaks out segments of surfacing creating the potholes,” Olson said. “As traffic drives over the potholes, they create pressures that further develop the pothole.”

Olson said residents are asked to report significant potholes on city-maintained streets by calling 537-6773.

All potholes on state or federal highways should be reported to MnDOT at 537-6146.